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Feb. 17, 2021, 2:09 a.m. EST

Maersk fast-tracks plans for carbon-neutral ship

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By Costas Paris

Shipping giant A.P. Moller Maersk A/S is fast-tracking efforts to transition to carbon-neutral ship operations with plans to add in two years what would be the first container ship running on biofuel.

The Danish company's Maersk Line is the world's biggest container line by capacity, according to maritime data provider Alphaliner, and the switch could accelerate efforts by energy providers to come up with substantial volumes of nonfossil fuels capable of powering oceangoing vessels.

The Maersk ship will be a small vessel known as a feeder that can move up to 2,000 boxes and will be added to its network in 2023, seven years ahead of an earlier announced timeline, the company said Wednesday. The ship also will be able to burn conventional bunker fuel, and Maersk said this dual-propulsion capability will be a feature in all of its future ship orders.

Maersk is working with maritime engine makers to develop the dual-propulsion system. The ability to handle different forms of propulsion already is being applied to many new vessels being launched by other companies, mostly with new ships that can run on conventional bunker fuel as well as natural gas.

Maersk's new ship will run on biomethanol, which can be sourced from paper-mill waste and other byproducts, or by mixing hydrogen with carbon dioxide trapped from industrial exhaust systems.

"We have not decided on which route it will sail in. It will depend on where we can get the fuel," said Morten Bo Christiansen, Maersk's head of decarbonization.

Maersk chose biomethanol because it is available for use now, but the company is studying other fuels such as ammonia for the future.

Several big shipping players have been experimenting with biofuels.

Singapore-based, Japanese-owned Ocean Network Express Pte. Ltd. sent a boxship across the Atlantic earlier this month that used a mixture of cooking oil and banker fuel. Norwegian operators have been using small ferries and cargo vessels powered by batteries for short sailings.

Oceangoing vessels collectively contribute around 2.5% of the world's greenhouse-gas emissions, according to the International Maritime Organization, the United Nations body regulating maritime affairs. The amount is comparable to the emissions of some of the largest European Union countries.

IMO member-nations have agreed on a plan to boost the fuel efficiency of some 60,000 oceangoing vessels by 40% over the next decade and cut overall greenhouse-gas emissions from ship exhausts by half in 2050, compared with 2008 levels. Some of the world's biggest ship financiers have pledged to extend loans for ships built with lower emissions systems.

Maersk says its goal is to have an entirely carbon-neutral fleet by 2050.

A major concern for shipping companies is to find enough fuel capable of powering today's ultra-large cargo ships, with a capacity for more than 20,000 containers across thousands of miles.

"We are working to build bigger engines that can move bigger vessels. We are going to replenish our fleet going forward and we need engineering solutions for larger vessels," Mr. Christiansen said.

Write to Costas Paris at costas.paris@wsj.com

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