American Bureau of Shipping (ABS) Innovation and Technology Sustainability for the Maritime Sector

Sustainability for the Maritime Sector

Low Carbon Shipping

ABS Releases Low Carbon Shipping Outlook

This new industry-shaping outlook evaluates potential pathways to low-carbon shipping. The Outlook defines ship technologies, operational efficiencies and alternative fuels and energy sources needed to reach 2030 and 2050 targets.

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Setting the Course to Low Carbon Shipping

The International Maritime Organization (IMO) has set ambitious targets for the shipping industry. In addition to the 2020 Global Sulphur Cap, shipowners and operators must consider the greenhouse gas (GHG) targets for 2030 and even more ambitious emissions goals for 2050.

The regulatory changes set for 2020—as well as those expected for 2030 and 2050—will be more disruptive than any past environmental regulations. To achieve cleaner and low carbon emissions, the shipping industry will need a better understanding of existing technologies and strategies while new technology (including fuels) will need to be developed.

The new ABS Low Carbon Shipping Outlook defines ship technologies, operational efficiencies and alternative fuels and energy sources needed to reach 2030 and 2050 targets. This outlook is a tool to help shipowners understand the task ahead and effectively assess their options for a transition to low carbon operations. Key takeaways include:


  • 2030 targets can be met with available technology – slower speeds, improvements in operational efficiency, limited use of low-carbon fuels, and energy efficient designs.
  • Fuels are in focus to achieve 2050 emissions targets. Our conceptual designs confirm that the fuel technology today does not meet the 2050 demands.
  • There will be challenges involved with scaling alternative fuels. To fully understand what it will take to adopt alternative fuels globally, we can compare to LNG as fuel. It has taken ten years for LNG bunkering infrastructure to develop and supply less than 1% of the global fleet. Other alternative fuels will face similar infrastructure development, regulatory and supply chain challenges.

The Path to Decarbonization for the Marine Industry

Shipowners and operators have begun exploring more fuel-efficient vessels and low carbon fuel options, but today’s technology alone will not be able to meet tomorrow’s efficiency, air pollution and carbon emission requirements.

In the short term, options to meet IMO 2030 emissions goals include: speed reduction and speed optimization; improvements in design efficiency; and fuels with lower CO2 emissions, such as LNG and LPG.

Improvements to the energy efficiency of ship designs will not be enough for 2050 GHG reduction targets without alternative, low carbon fuels.

There are currently no truly “zero-carbon” fuels at a larger scale and “carbon-neutral” biofuels are tested in limited quantities. All alternative fuels known at this time have certain limitations. There is no obvious fuel choice for the global fleet. For the immediate future the fuel solution far a vast part of international shipping remains a choice between a variety of fuel oils or LNG.

The Impact on the Sustainability of the Industry

Markets are a powerful incentive for innovation, and regulation is needed to establish common goals. When it comes to reducing GHG emissions for shipping, not only will supporting regulation potentially have an impact on ship designs, fuel selections and vessel operations, it may also affect the choice of cargoes that will be transported, as well as the trade routes and ship sizes.

In that light, the industry will need regulation that provides a compliance process that is technically proven, safe and commercially sustainable, one that encourages early adopters of new technologies.

Without this, the regulatory risks will loom over shipowners as they prepare for the next 30 years.

Lowering the carbon footprint of an industry that moves almost 90% of global trade is a significant undertaking. Change on that scale will not come quickly, great efforts will be required to ensure that shipping’s positive contributions to global trade and the economy remain visible for all to see.

Download the ABS Low Carbon Shipping Outlook Here: