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Illustration; Image credit Maersk

Container shipping heavyweight Maersk plans to launch the world’s first carbon-neutral liner vessel in 2023, seven years ahead of the initial 2030-ambition, Maersk said.

The vessel will be a methanol feeder with a capacity of around 2,000 TEU and it would be deployed in one of Maersk’s intra-regional networks.

While the vessel will be able to operate on standard VLSFO, the plan is to operate the vessel on carbon neutral e-methanol or sustainable bio-methanol from day one.

The Methanol Institute has welcomed the announcement. 

“Maersk is once again showing industry leadership in adopting renewable methanol as a key plank in its strategy towards carbon neutrality,” Chris Chatterton, Chief Operating Officer of the Methanol Institute, said.

“Methanol is proven as a clean, efficient and safe marine fuel that offers immediate decarbonization benefits to vessel operators with substantial net GHG reductions, full compliance with IMO2020 and a pathway that leads to net carbon neutrality as production of renewable Methanol grows.”

The announcement comes amid growing customer demand for sustainable shipping chains as well as the acceleration of technological developments in the field to support the demand.

Our customers expect us to help them decarbonise their global supply chains, and we are embracing the challenge, working on solving the practical, technical and safety challenges inherent in the carbon neutral fuels we need in the future. Our ambition to have a carbon neutral fleet by 2050 was a moonshot when we announced in 2018. Today we see it as a challenging, yet achievable target to reach,” says Søren Skou, CEO, A.P. Moller – Maersk.

Both the methanol-fueled feeder vessel and the decision to install dual fuel engines on future newbuildings are part of Maersk’s ongoing fleet replacement plans.

The company expects CAPEX implications to be manageable. In its CAPEX guidance released last week, Maersk said that it expects to have $4.5-5.5 billion for 2021-2022.

The liner major ended the year with record quarterly results, forecasting an underlying EBITDA for 2021 in the range of $8.5-10.5bn, compared to $8.3bn in 2020.

Commenting last week on the prospects of ordering new ships, Skou said that Maersk needed to replace some of its aging tonnage, adding that nothing dramatic should be expected.

In line with its decarbonization strategy, Maersk aims to have commercially viable, net-zero vessels on the water by 2030, and to deliver a 60% relative reduction in CO2 emissions by 2030 compared to 2008 levels. However, with the latest announcement, the realization of these plans is likely to come even sooner.

Image credit Maersk

Maersk has been investing a lot of its own money and efforts to develop new fuels, zooming in on three potential fuel types based on alcohols (methanol and ethanol), bio-methane, and ammonia.

The company caused quite a stir earlier this year as it announced plans to start ordering first ships running on alternative fuels in three years.

Commenting on the decision Skou said the company was working on resolving the safety and all other issues faced by ammonia and fuel types based on alcohols in two to three years.

“Both of those fuel types have special issues: with alcohol, the flame point is very low so there’s a safety issue there, the other is that ammonia is toxic, so there’s also another safety issue there,” Skou pointed out.

“Nevertheless, we believe we can solve those problems in two to three years. It will still be a combustion engine as we know it today, which is good because it means there’s a chance we can even retrofit existing ships with new pistons and so on.

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