Using Sailing with Sustainability

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Here we look at the new technologies that could lead to a more environmentally friendly and ‘cleaner’ shipping industry. We also look briefly at promising clean tech innovations for air freight.



The Challenge

With 90 per cent of global trades transported by sea, traditional cargo ships are responsible for a significant portion of the world’s carbon emissions, i.e. the international maritime sector produces almost 3 per cent of total global carbon emissions. 


New Technologies That Could Clean Up Shipping

Some of the new technological developments that could lead to more environmentally friendly, ‘cleaner’ shipping include innovative electric boats like the ‘Pioneer’. 

The Pioneer flying boat developed by Artemis Technologies is the world’s first electric foiling workboat. It has a foil/wing-like structure underneath the ship that lifts the hull right out of the water, thereby reducing drag and enabling a fast ride. It has been designed and built by Belfast-based marine technology company Artemis Technologies to transport cargo over long distances in a more environmentally friendly manner. The Pioneer is a hybrid electric flying boat powered by a traditional internal combustion engine and an electric motor. According to the company, the flying boat can carry up to 50 tons of cargo. 

One of the main ways the Pioneer flying boat could contribute to a cleaner, more sustainable shipping is by reducing carbon emissions, thanks to its electric technology. Additionally, the Pioneer flying boat could operate on various alternative power sources, such as biofuels or hydrogen, which would reduce its environmental impact. 

Another way the Pioneer flying boat could contribute to cleaner shipping is by reducing the amount of road congestion and related air pollution. In addition, the flying ship could alleviate pressure on these already-congested transportation networks by transporting goods via sea rather than by road or rail.  

Also, electric boats such as those made by Artemis could benefit the environment (and passengers) because they don’t produce the kind of wake that traditional crafts create, can operate close to the harbour, don’t cause the same kind of coastal degradation, and can offer reduced journey times. 

The Pioneer flying boat could be one technological advancement that has the potential to revolutionise the way goods are transported over long distances, offering a more environmentally friendly and sustainable alternative to traditional cargo ships and other modes of transportation. 



Other Ways The Shipping Industry Could Become More Environmentally Friendly

Different ways that the shipping industry could become more environmentally friendly include: 

– Using battery-powered boats for short distances.  

– For international shipping, using green hydrogen-based fuels could reduce carbon emissions. However, transitioning to hydrogen would require changes to fuel infrastructure and modifications to the ships to make them compatible with hydrogen fuel.  

– Bridging the gap between fossil fuels and clean hydrogen by sustainably producing and using Syngas – i.e. a mixture of hydrogen and carbon monoxide. For example, a Cambridge University experiment using artificial leaves floated on the surface of rivers to generate clean fuels from sunlight and water. The hope is that this could be scaled up to autonomous (floating) fuel production centres in remote areas near the shore, lakes, or islands to create refuelling stations for ships. 

– Using traditional, wind-powered cargo sailing ships, e.g. Costa Rica-based ‘Sailcargo’ transports containers using conventional sailing ships. 


Unmanned, Cargo-Hauling Drone Aircraft

Air freight could be cleaned up using cargo drones from the 3,000 smaller airstrips across Europe. The drones, flying below passenger air traffic, could move smaller loads, e.g. 350kg. Examples of companies already experimenting with these cargo drones include Bulgaria-based Dronamics (powered by an electric engine) and U Elroy Air (drones powered by a hybrid electric engine – consists of an electric generating turbine and runs off aviation fuel). As well as operating from airfields for longer distances, these drones could be loaded aboard and operated from electric-powered ships. 



Some of the challenges to ‘cleaning up the shipping and air freight industries include the following: 

– The lack of infrastructure for alternative fuels. Shipping and air freight rely heavily on fossil fuels, which significantly contribute to carbon emissions. To reduce these emissions, investing heavily in infrastructure for alternative fuels such as electric or hydrogen-based fuels will be necessary. 

– Another challenge is the cost of transitioning to alternative fuels. While the long-term benefits of using cleaner fuels may be significant, the upfront cost of converting ships and planes to alternative fuels and the cost of building the necessary infrastructure can be prohibitively expensive. 

– Technological challenges. For example, electric and hydrogen-based fuels may not have the same energy density as fossil fuels, so they may not be suitable for long-distance shipping or air freight. 

– Regulatory challenges. Governments must establish clear policies and incentives to encourage cleaner fuels in the shipping and air freight industries. 


What Does This Mean For Your Organisation?

New, innovative, and cleaner technological developments, such as electric (foil) boats, hydrogen-based fuels, Syngas, and launching electric cargo drones from electric ships, all promise to reduce carbon emissions and could be a beneficial alternative to environmentally unfriendly, carbon-producing fossil fuels. In terms of benefits, using these technologies would allow shipping companies to reduce their environmental impact and meet regulatory requirements for emissions reductions. It could also help businesses and consumers to meet their own sustainability goals. Additionally, adopting these cleaner technologies could reduce long-term shipping costs by reducing the need for expensive fuel sources. At the moment, however, there are still significant challenges to overcome in introducing these technologies at scale, which means we won’t be reaping the benefits soon. Still, at least there are promising and practical alternatives to the current situation.