Global shipping is under pressure to stop its heavy fuel oil use fast—that's not simple, but changes are coming (2023)

Global shipping is under pressure to stop its heavy fuel oil use fast—that's not simple, but changes are coming (1)

Most of the clothing and gadgets you buy in stores today were once in shipping containers, sailing across the ocean. Ships carry over 80% of the world's traded goods. But they have a problem—the majority of them burn heavy sulfur fuel oil, which is a driver of climate change.

While cargo ships' engines have become more efficient over time, the industry is under growing pressure to eliminate its carbon footprint.

The European Union Parliament this year voted to require an 80% drop in shipping fuels' greenhouse gas intensity by 2050 and to require shipping lines to pay for the greenhouse gases their ships release. The International Maritime Organization, the United Nations agency that regulates international shipping, also plans to strengthen its climate strategy this summer. The IMO's current goal is to cut shipping emissions 50% by 2050. President Joe Biden said on April 20, 2023, that the U.S. would push for a new international goal of zero emissions by 2050 instead.

We asked maritime industry researcher Don Maier if the industry can meet those tougher targets.

Why is it so hard for shipping to transition away from fossil fuels?

Economics and the lifespan of ships are two primary reasons.

Most of the big shippers' fleets are less than 20 years old, but even the newer builds don't necessarily have the most advanced technology. It takes roughly a year and a half to come out with a new build of a ship, and it will still be based on technology from a few years ago. So, most of the engines still run on fossil fuel oil.

If companies do buy ships that run on alternative fuels, such as hydrogen, methanol and ammonia, they run into another challenge: There are only a few ports so far with the infrastructure to provide those fuels. Without a way to refuel at all the ports that a ship might use, companies will lose their return on investment, so they will keep using the same technology instead.

It isn't necessarily that the maritime industry doesn't want to go the direction of cleaner fuels. But their assets—their fleets—were purchased with a long lifespan in mind, and alternative fuels aren't yet widely available.

Ships are being built that can run on liquefied natural gas (LNG) and methanol, and even hydrogen is coming online. Often these are dual-fuel—ships that can run on either alternative fuels or fossil fuels. But so far, not enough of this type of ship is being ordered for the costs to make financial sense for most builders or buyers.

The costs of alternative fuels, like methanol and hydrogen fuels made with renewable energy (as opposed to being made with natural gas), are also still significantly higher than fuel oil or LNG. But the good news is those costs are starting to decline. As production ramps up, emissions will drop further.

Can tougher regulations and carbon pricing effectively push the industry to change?

A little bit of pressure on the industry can be helpful, but too much, too fast can really make things more disruptive.

Like most industries, shipping lines want standardized rules they can count on not to change next year. Some of these companies have invested millions of dollars in new ships in recent years, and they're now being told that those ships might not meet the new standards—even though the ships may be almost brand new.

Global shipping is under pressure to stop its heavy fuel oil use fast—that's not simple, but changes are coming (2)

Another concern with the EU's moves is whether it has a grasp on all the "what if" scenarios. For example, if the EU has stricter rules than other countries, that affects which ships companies can use on European routes. Any vessels that they put on routes to Europe will have to meet those emissions standards. If there's a greater demand for products in Europe, they may have fewer vessels they could use.

Press the play button or zoom out and use the filters to see where different ship types travel. Created by London-based data visualization studio Kiln and the UCL Energy Institute

I do think the change will be coming soon in the industry, but changes have to make financial sense to the shipping lines and their customers, too.

Economists have estimated that the cost of cutting emissions 50% by 2050 are anywhere from US$1 trillion to, more realistically, over $3 trillion, and full decarbonization would be even higher. Many of those costs will be passed down to charterers, shippers and eventually consumers—meaning you and me.

Are there ways companies can cut emissions now while preparing to upgrade their fleets?

There are a number of options ship companies are using now to lower emissions.

One that has been used for at least 10 years is putting higher quality paint on the hulls, which reduces the friction between the hull and the water. With less friction, the engine isn't working as hard, which reduces emissions.

Another is slow speed. If ships run at a higher speed, their engines work harder, which means they use more fuel and release more emissions. So shippers will use slow steaming. Most of the time, ships will go slow when they're close to shore to reduce emissions that cause smog in port cities like Los Angeles. On the open ocean, they will go back to normal speed.

Another option common in the U.S. and Europe is shutting down the ship's engines while in port and plugging into the port's electricity. It's called "cold ironing." It avoids burning more of the ship's fuel, which affects air quality. The Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, where smog from idling ships has been a health concern, have been a big driver of electrification. It's also less expensive for shipping companies than burning their fuel while in port.

As simple as those may sound, they have made huge improvements in terms of emissions, but they aren't enough on their own.

Will a higher goal set by the IMO be enough to pressure the industry to change?

I used to work in shipping, and I know the maritime industry is a very old-school industry from centuries ago. But the industry has invested millions in new ships with the most effective technology available in recent years.

When the IMO began requiring all ships using heavy fuel in global trade to shift to low-sulfur fuel, the industry pivoted to meet the rule, even though retrofits were costly and time consuming. Many shipping lines complied by installing "scrubbers" that essentially filter the ship's engine, and new ships were built to run on the low-sulfur fuel oil.

Now, the industry is being told the standards are changing again.

All industries want consistency so they can be confident investing in a new technology. The shipping lines will follow what the IMO says. They will push back, but they will still do it. That's in part because the IMO supports the maritime industry, too.

Provided by The Conversation

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What are the available alternative fuels for shipping? ›

Biofuels. Biofuels potentially offer medium and long-term marine fuel alternatives that can enter the market relatively quickly. They also offer the potential, if sustainability criteria are met, to reduce carbon output compared to traditional carbon-based fossil fuels.

What are the three fossil fuels obtained from crude oil? ›

Over millions of years under high pressure and high temperature, the remains of these organisms transformed into what we know today as fossil fuels. Coal, natural gas, and petroleum are all fossil fuels that formed under similar conditions.

What are the common fossil fuels? ›

Coal, oil, and natural gas are examples of fossil fuels.

What is the future of heavy fuel oil? ›

Heavy Fuel Oil Market Size (2022 - 2027):

The Global Heavy Fuel Oil Market size is expected to reach nearly US$ 58.65 billion by 2027 with a CAGR of 15.9% during the forecast period 2022-2027.

What is the new alternative fuel? ›

Hydrogen. Hydrogen is a potentially emissions-free alternative fuel that can be produced from domestic resources for use in fuel cell vehicles.

Will we ever run out of oil? ›

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration's (EIA) International Energy Outlook 2021 (IEO2021), the global supply of crude oil, other liquid hydrocarbons, and biofuels is expected to be adequate to meet the world's demand for liquid fuels through 2050.

How long before the world runs out of oil? ›

Oil can last up to 50 years, natural gas up to 53 years, and coal up to 114 years. Yet, renewable energy is not popular enough, so emptying our reserves can speed up.

Does the US produce more oil than it consumes? ›

The U.S. produces 18.8 million barrels of oil per day but consumes slightly more — 20.5 million barrels per day. (The world as a whole consumes about 100 million barrels per day.)

Why are we still using fossil fuels? ›

CONVENIENCE: They are ready-made

To unlock most alternative fuels (think solar, geothermal, wind, etc…) we first have to figure out how to efficiently collect, transform, and store the energy before we can even begin to think about using it. Fossil fuels, on the other hand, require no such innovation.

What are the 3 main fossil fuels used today? ›

​Fossil fuels such as Coal, Oil and Gas are some of the most important natural resources that we use everyday. These fossil fuels are all Hydrocarbons, they are compounds formed from only two elements, Carbon and Hydrogen.

What happens when we run out of fossil fuels? ›

It will disrupt the food chain industry

Food chain logistics would be badly affected without global transportation. As a result, restaurants would begin to shut down in batches. People living in the big cities might have to move to rural areas to live closer to food sources and start learning to grow food to survive.

What is the future of oil and gas industry in the US? ›

Domestic oil production will likely hit a new record of 12.5 million barrels per day in 2023 and 12.7 million barrels in 2024, according to the Energy Information Administration. That would eclipse the prior record from 2019.

Can US produce heavy oil? ›

For example, the U.S. and China have many refineries configured to process heavy oil. Virtually all the oil produced in the U.S. is light crude, unsuitable for heavy oil refineries in the Midwest and Gulf Coast.

Will there be life after oil and gas? ›

In less than a century, it will . Most of the oil and gas we comes from the ground, but some comes from . But plants cannot produce all the oil we . In tomorrow's world, we will use oil and gas and more , but most of this will have to come from .

What car does not run on gas? ›

Electric vehicles, or EVs, run solely on battery power, dispensing with the gas engine altogether. EVs have a specific range of miles they can travel before they need to be “refueled” by plugging them into an electrical power source, which can be a source of “range anxiety” for drivers.

Can a car run on anything other than gas? ›

Nope. Not if the car was designed for liquid gasoline. Some sort of refined crude oil will always be required. Besides other fossil fuels and biofuels, there Electricity (either stored in batteries or generated using a Fuel Cell and Hydrogen.)

What cars can't use new fuel? ›

Diesel and electric vehicles cannot use E10 petrol.

How many years will US oil last? ›

Oil Reserves in the United States

The United States has proven reserves equivalent to 4.9 times its annual consumption. This means that, without imports, there would be about 5 years of oil left (at current consumption levels and excluding unproven reserves).

Did Biden cancel oil leases? ›

Biden had signed an executive order that suspended new lease sales soon after taking office in 2021. The following March, U.S. District Judge Terry Doughty in Monroe, Louisiana, blocked the policy, siding with a more than a dozen Republican-leaning states opposed to Biden's move.

How much untapped oil does the US have? ›

Oil shale. The United States has the largest known deposits of oil shale in the world, according to the Bureau of Land Management and holds an estimated 2.175 trillion barrels (345.8 km3) of potentially recoverable oil. Oil shale does not actually contain oil, but a waxy oil precursor known as kerogen.

How many years of natural gas is left? ›

Assuming the same annual rate of U.S. dry natural gas production in 2021 of about 34.52 Tcf, the United States has enough dry natural gas to last about 86 years.

How long till the world runs out of gas? ›

At the current rates of production, oil will run out in 53 years, natural gas in 54 years, and coal in 110 years, according to estimates from the 2015 World Energy Outlook study by the International Energy Agency.

How much gas is left in the world? ›

According to U.S. Crude Oil and Natural Gas Proved Reserves, Year-end 2021, as of December 30, 2021, U.S. total natural gas proved reserves—estimated as wet gas (which includes hydrocarbon gas liquids [HGLs])—totaled about 625.4 trillion cubic feet (Tcf).

Why does US not use its own oil? ›

A main reason why the U.S. continues to import crude oil and refined products is that much of the infrastructure to produce oil, as well as refine and transport fuels, is in the mid-continent and U.S. Gulf Coast regions. Crude oil is not a homogenous product.

Where does the US get most of its oil? ›

  • The top five sources of U.S. crude oil imports by percentage share of U.S. total crude oil imports in 2021 were:
  • Canada61%
  • Mexico10%
  • Saudi Arabia6%
  • Russia3%
  • Colombia3%
Nov 2, 2022

Does the US own the most oil? ›

No other nation in the world produces more oil than the US — so why do we count on countries like Saudi Arabia to supply us with crude? While the U.S. is the world's top producer of oil, it's also the world's top gas guzzler.

Can we live without fossil fuels? ›

Without fossil fuels, the building materials for your home are very limited. Bricks, wood, cement, drywall, and a few other materials would be available to build your home. The wood might not be pressure treated though because some of the chemicals used in pressure treatment have fossil fuel raw material.

Will humans run out of fossil fuels? ›

When will we run out of coal and natural gas? Coal and natural gas are expected to last a little longer than oil. If we continue to use these fossil fuels at the current rate without finding additional reserves, it is expected that coal and natural gas will last until 2060.

Who is most responsible for climate change? ›

Greenhouse-gas emissions reached their highest-ever level in 2021, with global carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels topping 36 billion metric tons. China is currently the highest emitter, followed by the US. Combined emissions from the European Union are the next largest, with India and Russia following.

How much oil is left in the world? ›

World Oil Reserves

The world has proven reserves equivalent to 46.6 times its annual consumption levels. This means it has about 47 years of oil left (at current consumption levels and excluding unproven reserves).

What is the most plentiful fossil fuel in the United States? ›

Coal is our most abundant fossil fuel. The United States has more coal than the rest of the world has oil.

Which country consumes the most oil per capita? ›

The United States and China are the top largest consumers of oil in the world, totaling 18.7 million and 15.4 million barrels per day, respectively.

What will happen if we don't stop burning fossil fuels? ›

What is the link between fossil fuels and climate change? When fossil fuels are burned, they release large amounts of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, into the air. Greenhouse gases trap heat in our atmosphere, causing global warming. Already the average global temperature has increased by 1C.

What happens if we don't reduce fossil fuels? ›

Carbon dioxide is the most important gas contributing to climate change. However, the advantages of fossil fuels come with a devastating downside. We now understand that the release of carbon dioxide (CO2) from burning fossil fuels is warming our planet faster than anything we have seen in the geological record.

What resources are we running out of? ›

What resources are in decline?
  • Water – Even though you see water everywhere and our planet is 70% water, only 2.5% of that 70% is fresh water. The rest is salt water and not useful to humans at all. ...
  • Coal – This is the most used fossil fuel and a non-renewable energy source.

What are the 3 main components of crude oil? ›

Crude oils are customarily characterized by the type of hydrocarbon compound that is most prevalent in them: paraffins, naphthenes, and aromatics.

What are the three types of crude oil? ›

Types of Crude Oil
  • Class A: Light, Volatile Oils. These oils are:
  • Class B: Non-Sticky Oils. These oils have a waxy or oily feel. ...
  • Class C: Heavy, Sticky Oils. Class C oils are characteristically:
  • Class D: Nonfluid Oils. Class D oils are:
Nov 9, 2022

What is an example of 3 fossil fuels? ›

Fossil fuel is a generic term for non-renewable energy sources such as coal, coal products, natural gas, derived gas, crude oil, petroleum products and non-renewable wastes.

Why do you not mix oil and water? ›

Liquid water is held together by hydrogen bonds. (Liquid water has fewer hydrogen bonds than ice.) Oils and fats not have any polar part and so for them to dissolve in water they would have to break some of water s hydrogen bonds. Water will not do this so the oil is forced to stay separate from the water.

What are 5 things that use crude oil? ›

We use petroleum products to propel vehicles, to heat buildings, and to produce electricity. In the industrial sector, the petrochemical industry uses petroleum as a raw material (a feedstock) to make products such as plastics, polyurethane, solvents, and hundreds of other intermediate and end-user goods.

What is black oil? ›

: any of various dark-colored oils obtained especially from petroleum (such as heavy crude lubricating oils)

What are 4 characteristics of crude oil? ›

The most common properties of crude oil are density, viscosity, and boiling point ranges. Amongst these properties, the most important one is density and it is globally stated as API (American Petroleum Institute). Based on its density, crude oil is classified as light, medium, and heavy.

What are the 6 types of crude oil? ›

There are six types of crude oil: light/sweet, light/sour, medium/sweet, medium/sour, heavy/sweet, and heavy/sour. Crude oil prices are subject to geopolitical factors and events which affect supply and demand.

How long will natural gas last? ›

Assuming the same annual rate of U.S. dry natural gas production in 2021 of about 34.52 Tcf, the United States has enough dry natural gas to last about 86 years. The actual number of years the TRR will last depends on the actual amount of dry natural gas produced and on changes in natural gas TRR in future years.

Is natural gas fracking? ›

Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is a drilling method used to extract petroleum (oil) or natural gas from deep in the Earth. In the fracking process, cracks in and below the Earth's surface are opened and widened by injecting water, chemicals, and sand at high pressure.

Which is the cleanest burning fossil fuel? ›

Natural gas is a relatively clean burning fossil fuel

Burning natural gas for energy results in fewer emissions of nearly all types of air pollutants and carbon dioxide (CO2) than burning coal or petroleum products to produce an equal amount of energy.

Which one of the three fossil fuels is the cleanest? ›

Compared with some other fossil fuels, natural gas emits the least amount of carbon dioxide into the air when combusted -- making natural gas the cleanest burning fossil fuel of all.

What are three 3 examples of fuels? ›

Fuel Properties Comparison
  • [Select all]
  • Gasoline/E10.
  • Low Sulfur Diesel.
  • Ethanol/E100.
  • Compressed Natural Gas (CNG)
  • Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG)
  • Propane (LPG)
  • Methanol.


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