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The shipping industry, a major global polluter, going electric

Yara Birkeland, the world's first all-electric and emission-free container ship,, has recently completed its maiden voyage in Norway

The $15 million 80 meter-long container ship is designed to carry 103 containers on a single trip The electric ships market size is anticipated to record a valuation of $7 billion by 2027 One single large ship emits as much CO2 as 70,000 cars

Yara Birkeland, the world’s first all-electric and emission-free container ship, has recently completed its maiden voyage in Norway. Birkeland has traveled for about 14 km, according to a press release from its makers, Yara. 

The container ship will replace truck trips starting next year in a move expected to cut 1,000 tons of carbon emissions a year.

The $15 million 80 meter-long container ship is designed to carry 103 containers on a single trip, powered by a 7MWh battery, and travel at top speeds of 15 knots.   

The ship was equipped with sensors that can detect objects like kayaks in the water and with integrations for autonomous operations. Following 2 years of testing, the ship will be able to load and offload its cargo, charge its battery and navigate without any human involvement, Reuters reported.

Apart from cleaning up its transportation emissions, Yara is also planning to make and use green ammonia as a fuel for ships as well.  

Huge maritime pollution

Ships transport about 80% of the world’s commodities, reported the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTD). And maritime transport will grow annually by 3.8% starting 2022.  

Yet, worldwide maritime transport is responsible for almost 2.5% of total greenhouse gas emissions, according to the International Maritime Organization. It produces 1 billion tons of CO2 each year.

Market researchers at IDTechEx One have calculated that one single large ship emits as much CO2 as 70,000 cars, as much nitrogen oxide as 2 million cars, and as much fine dust and carcinogenic particles as 2.5 million cars.  

Ships worldwide burn 370 million tons of fuel each year and produce 20 million tons of sulfur oxide.  A study by the EU parliament assumes that by 2050 maritime traffic will be responsible for almost one-fifth of global CO2 emissions.  

Electric ship market

The electric ships market size is anticipated to record a valuation of $7 billion by 2027, according to the most recent study by Global Market Insights Inc. 

Another study showed the global electric ships market size is projected to reach $9.36  billion by 2027, from $5.12 bn in 2020, at a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 10.6% during the forecast period 2021-2027.

200 businesses from across the shipping value chain committed to scaling and commercializing zero-emission shipping vessels and fuels by 2030.  

Meanwhile, 19 countries signed the Clydebank Declaration to support the establishment of zero-emission shipping routes. This means creating at least six zero-emission maritime corridors by the middle of this decade while aspiring to see many more in operation by 2030.

Also, nine big-name brands including Amazon, IKEA, Michelin, Unilever and Patagonia announced that by 2040, they plan to shift 100% of their ocean freight to vessels powered by zero-carbon.

How maritime emissions can be reduced

In April 2018, the International Maritime Organization decided to drastically reduce emissions. By 2050, the 173 member states of the UN organization want to at least halve CO2 emissions from ships compared to 2008.  

Solar boats are on the water: the catamarans “SolarWave” and “Tûranor PlanetSolar” obtain their energy from photovoltaic cells on board. In 2012, the “Tûranor PlanetSolar” was also the first solar-powered boat to sail around the world. The journey took 585 days.

But, analysts at IDTechEx predict that worldwide sales of fully electric and hybrid ships will increase. The figure could reach $20 billion by 2027.

For there to be more electric ships in the future, one main challenge has to be overcome: The batteries to store electricity must be much more efficient. To date, most batteries cannot store enough energy in relation to their size and weight to allow travel vast distances with one battery charge. For this, batteries are generally still too large and too heavy.

In addition, the ports need suitable charging infrastructure. However, shore-side electricity facilities are still rare. The ports would therefore have to invest a lot of money for charging equipment. The batteries are also still too expensive for many shipping companies. According to DST, a development center for maritime technology and transportation systems in Germany, batteries are the most expensive component on an electric ship.

Nevertheless, electric drive systems are still possible for ferries and inland vessels. They dock frequently and can either exchange batteries in containers or briefly recharge the batteries every time they dock and charge them completely overnight.

The four ferries of what is known as the “bird flight line” between Germany and Denmark already sail with hybrid technology. The drive combines an internal combustion engine and an electric drive system. According to the shipping company, this reduces CO2 emissions by up to 15 percent.  

The first hybrid-electric powered cruise ship, “MS Roald Amundsen” was from Norwegian shipping company Hurtigruten and introduced in 2019. Lithium-ion batteries enable the ship to sail for at least 30 minutes with electric power.

A fully electric ferry has also been sailing on the river Mosel in Germany since spring 2018. The “Sankta Maria II” transports 45 passengers and six cars. Some of the electricity is generated by 15 solar modules and is stored in two battery blocks.

China has the first fully electric container ship. It is planned only for use on inland waterways, as the ship can travel a distance of just 80 kilometers. The 1,000 lithium-ion batteries on board weigh 26 tons and achieve 2,400-kilowatt hours.  

Dutch company Port-Liner is also building fully electric cargo ships. They will sail on inland waterways, including to Rotterdam port. They can travel for 34 hours on one battery charge. The batteries are in containers that are simply exchanged at the port, which means that they do not have to be charged immediately.  

Electric Speed boats

A new California startup called Arc is launching a limited edition 24-foot watersports boat that will cost around $300,000.

Expensive, but Arc boasts a handful of SpaceX expats, and is backed by Silicon Valley powerhouse firm Andreessen Horowitz and plans to work its way down from that price point once it’s producing and selling boats, just like Tesla once did for electric passenger cars with the Roadster, followed by the Model S and X, and then the Model 3 and Y.

The boat will have a 200kWh, 800-volt battery pack, and an electric motor with at least 475 horsepower. It will have a top speed of around 40 miles per hour and run for a total of around 4 hours.