The Case for Re-Shoring to Save the Planet

There are approximately 31 million vehicles on the roads in the UK. They produce a certain amount of pollution each year which receives a significant amount of press coverage arguing the case to reduce the emissions due to climate warming and health effects.

1 (one) cargo ship produces the equivalent pollution of 50 million cars each year. Where should our priorities lie?

Image credit: PIRO4D from Pixabay

Is this not a singularly persuasive argument for re-shoring as much as possible to avoid the lunacy of those long criss-crossing supply chains?

Not to mention security of supply.

Even Davos man has seen the benefits of such an approach. It is couched in different terms and the video here is short and summarises things in terms of decentralising brands but the net effect is the same in terms of planetary impact.

(The following article relies very heavily on that produced by Harry Homburg of Exponential Investor – part of  Southbank Investment Research)

Container ships run on the dregs of crude oil.

When all the higher quality fuels like petrol, diesel and kerosene have been extracted, you’re left with a black, tarry mess called bunker fuel. This is what container ships burn.

As you may expect, bunker fuel is incredibly polluting.

Back in 2009, confidential data was released showing one container ship produces as much pollution as 50 million cars.

To put that into perspective, there are only 31.3 million cars in the entire UK.

It’s estimated there are around 1.4 billion cars in the world. So 28 cargo ships produce as much pollution as all the cars in the world.

To discover that a single cargo ship makes more pollution than all the cars in the UK has really taken me aback. And not just a bit more, 60% more.

Here are two ways you could look at those numbers.

  1. There is absolutely no point cutting down on the UK’s car use. Even if the UK banned cars altogether, that gain would be more than offset by the building of a single new cargo ship.
  2. If the shipping industry could switch to a different fuel source, or modify its boats to produce fewer emissions, it would massively cut down on the world’s pollution.

These stats can be backed up with articles here and here and for convenience, the articles are reproduced below.

So, what exactly is the shipping industry doing to combat its impressive pollution contribution?

With growing concern about global emissions and climate change, the shipping industry has decided to clean up its act.

Back to the future

Maersk is the world’s largest shipping company. Almost 1 in 5 containers on the sea today are carried by Maersk. So if Maersk reduced its pollution, it would have a massive impact on worldwide emissions.

So it’s good news that Maersk has pledged to cut its net carbon emissions to zero by 2050.

And that’s not a goal like all new cargo ships to be non-polluting by 2050 – a la the UK’s 2040 carbon neutral car campaign. It means its entire working fleet – old and new.

Given that the life of a cargo ship is around 20-25 years, it needs to start making those changes now.

“We will have to abandon fossil fuels. We will have to find a different type of fuel or a different way to power our assets. This is not just another cost-cutting exercise. It’s far from that. It’s an existential exercise, where we as a company need to set ourselves apart,” Soren Toft, Maersk’s chief operating officer, told the Financial Times.

He added that, “to reach the target by 2050, in the next 10 years we need some big breakthroughs.” This means that there is a ‘then a miracle occurs’ moment for this to succeed.

According to the Financial Times:

Maersk is not pushing one technology — ideas such as biofuels, hydrogen, electricity or even wind or solar power have been mooted — but is stressing the urgency as most vessels have a life of 20-25 years, meaning that viable solutions need to be found soon.

One of the areas Maersk and others are looking into is sails. That’s right, the world’s leading shipping company is now adding sails to its fleet. Well, rotor pillars actually.

Here’s what they look like:


They work by spinning around and propelling the ship forward.

From Wikipedia:

A Magnus rotor used to propel a ship is called a rotor sail and is mounted with its axis vertical. When the wind blows from the side, the Magnus effect creates a forward thrust. Thus, as with any sailing ship, a rotor ship can only move forwards when there is a wind blowing. The commonest form of rotor sail is the Flettner rotor.

Due to the arrangement of forces, a rotor ship is able to sail closer to the wind than a conventional sailing ship. Other advantages include the ease of control from sheltered navigation stations and the lack of furling requirements in heavy weather.

The wind does not power the rotor itself, which must have its own power source to spin it up.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Maersk began testing rotator sails on its ships in August 2018, at a cost of around £0.9 to £1.8 million apiece.

It’s estimated that these sails will make Maersk’s ships 10% more efficient, cutting down on fuel costs and pollution. A good start – but it is the easy 10%, with a harder 90% to come.

What about electric?

Electric ships are good for short distances, but not for long-haul routes. China famously built an all-electric cargo ship in 2017, to much applause.

The irony of that development was the ship was created to ferry coal up the Pearl River.

From Clean Technica in December 2017:

China has launched the first all-electric cargo ship. According to China Daily, the 230 foot long vessel is equipped with a 2,400 kWh lithium-ion battery that stores enough electrical energy to transport 2200 tons of cargo a distance of 50 miles on a single charge at a top speed of about 8 miles per hour. Time to recharge the battery is given as 2 hours, which is approximately the time needed to unload the ship at its destination.

The all-electric cargo ship will be used primarily to transport coal to generating stations along the Pearl River. So, imagine this — the world now has a ship that can claim to be zero emissions even though it is powered by electricity generated by burning coal, one of the dirtiest of fossil fuels in terms of carbon emissions, and is used to transport coal more cheaply.

Still, it is clear that at least one shipping company is taking its polluting seriously. And it’s good news that the world’s biggest seems committed to going zero carbon by 2050.

Given that cargo ships currently produce more pollution than all the world’s cars – many times over – that can only be a good thing for our future.

This is something covered in Frontier Tech Investor in December 2018:

(This is another Southbank research title)
A year from now Norwegian firm Yara in conjunction with Kongsberg are due to launch the first fully electric and autonomous container ship on its maiden voyage. The news is regularly filled with stories about how soon we are likely to see the fully autonomous electric vehicles on our roads, but the reality is land-based travel is complicated.

There are a lot of moving bodies that a vehicle could bump into and they are all travelling at different speeds. It makes the job of trying to figure out how to negotiate a path around them quite challenging.

Sailing and flying are infinitely easier to develop autonomous vehicles for because quite simply there are fewer things to bump into. Once a ship is out at sea there are potential obstacles such as other ships, icebergs and islands but they are few and far between while ships tend to move considerably slower than cars or trucks. For planes, once sufficient altitude has been reached, and airspace apportioned there isn’t much to bump into other than other aircraft and mountains. The smaller number of potential obstacles and the relatively predictable trajectory of the known issues makes it simply easier to develop autonomous systems for ships and planes.

Autonomous ships are likely to be the first sector we see true autonomy delivered and it will give us an immediate perspective on what will happen to the workforces, primarily Filipino sailors, who will be impacted. We read constantly about the conundrum of what all the truckers and drivers are going to do when their jobs are automated away, but in 2018 we will get a real-world view of how that might play out in the shipping sector.


Health risks of shipping pollution have been ‘underestimated’

Article found here

(courtesy of The Guardian newspaper)

One giant container ship can emit almost the same amount of cancer and asthma-causing chemicals as 50m cars, study finds

Image: Cargo ship: Image by PublicDomainPictures from Pixabay

John Vidal, environment editor

Thu 9 Apr 2009 15.50 BST First published on Thu 9 Apr 2009 15.50 BST

90,000 cargo ships travel the world’s oceans. Photograph: Peter Maenhoudt/AP

Britain and other European governments have been accused of underestimating the health risks from shipping pollution following research which shows that one giant container ship can emit almost the same amount of cancer and asthma-causing chemicals as 50m cars.

Confidential data from maritime industry insiders based on engine size and the quality of fuel typically used by ships and cars shows that just 15 of the world’s biggest ships may now emit as much pollution as all the world’s 760m cars. Low-grade ship bunker fuel (or fuel oil) has up to 2,000 times the sulphur content of diesel fuel used in US and European automobiles.

Pressure is mounting on the UN’s International Maritime Organisation and the EU to tighten laws governing ship emissions following the decision by the US government last week to impose a strict 230-mile buffer zone along the entire US coast, a move that is expected to be followed by Canada.

The setting up of a low emission shipping zone follows US academic research which showed that pollution from the world’s 90,000 cargo ships leads to 60,000 deaths a year and costs up to $330bn per year in health costs from lung and heart diseases. The US Environmental Protection Agency estimates the buffer zone, which could be in place by next year, will save more than 8,000 lives a year with new air quality standards cutting sulphur in fuel by 98%, particulate matter by 85% and nitrogen oxide emissions by 80%.

The new study by the Danish government’s environmental agency adds to this picture. It suggests that shipping emissions cost the Danish health service almost £5bn a year, mainly treating cancers and heart problems. A previous study estimated that 1,000 Danish people die prematurely each year because of shipping pollution. No comprehensive research has been carried out on the effects on UK coastal communities, but the number of deaths is expected to be much higher.

Europe, which has some of the busiest shipping lanes in the world, has dramatically cleaned up sulphur and nitrogen emissions from land-based transport in the past 20 years but has resisted imposing tight laws on the shipping industry, even though the technology exists to remove emissions. Cars driving 15,000km a year emit approximately 101 grammes of sulphur oxide gases (or SOx) in that time. The world’s largest ships’ diesel engines which typically operate for about 280 days a year generate roughly 5,200 tonnes of SOx.

The EU plans only two low-emission marine zones which should come into force in the English channel and Baltic sea after 2015. However, both are less stringent than the proposed US zone, and neither seeks to limit deadly particulate emissions.

Shipping emissions have escalated in the past 15 years as China has emerged as the world’s manufacturing capital. A new breed of intercontinental container ship has been developed which is extremely cost-efficient. However, it uses diesel engines as powerful as land-based power stations but with the lowest quality fuel.

“Ship pollution affects the health of communities in coastal and inland regions around the world, yet pollution from ships remains one of the least regulated parts of our global transportation system,” said James Corbett, professor of marine policy at the University of Delaware, one of the authors of the report which helped persuade the US government to act.

Today a spokesman for the UK government’s Maritime and Coastguard Agency accepted there were major gaps in the legislation. “Issues of particulate matter remain a concern. They need to be addressed and we look forward to working with the international community,” said environment policy director Jonathan Simpson.

“Europe needs a low emission zone right around its coasts, similar to the US, if we are to meet health and environmental objectives,” said Crister Agrena of the Air Pollution and Climate Secretariat in Gothenburg, one of Europe’s leading air quality organisations.

“It is unacceptable that shipping remains one of the most polluting industries in the world. The UK must take a lead in cleaning up emissions,” said Simon Birkett, spokesman for the Campaign for Clean Air in London. “Other countries are planning radical action to achieve massive health and other savings but the UK is strangely inactive.”

The calculations of ship and car pollution are based on the world’s largest 85,790KW ships’ diesel engines which operate about 280 days a year generating roughly 5,200 tonnes of SOx a year, compared with diesel and petrol cars which drive 15,000km a year and emit approximately 101gm of SO2/SoX a year.

Shipping by numbers

The world’s biggest container ships have 109,000 horsepower engines which weigh 2,300 tons.

Each ship expects to operate 24hrs a day for about 280 days a year

There are 90,000 ocean-going cargo ships

Shipping is responsible for 18-30% of all the world’s nitrogen oxide (NOx) pollution and 9% of the global sulphur oxide (SOx) pollution.

One large ship can generate about 5,000 tonnes of sulphur oxide (SOx) pollution in a year

70% of all ship emissions are within 400km of land.

85% of all ship pollution is in the northern hemisphere.

Shipping is responsible for 3.5% to 4% of all climate change emissions

  • This article was amended on 25 August 2015 to correct the number of deaths per year attributed to pollution from the world’s 90,000 cargo ships.


Statistical Release 14 June 2018: Vehicle Licensing Statistics in the UK: Quarter 1 (Jan – Mar) 2018

Paper found here

854,000 vehicles were registered for the first time in Great Britain during January to March 2018 (2018 Q1), 11% lower than during the same period in 2017.

About this release

This release presents the latest statistics on licensed motor vehicles. It is part of the Vehicle Statistics series. Detailed data tables are available from the web site.

It is based on administrative data held by the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA).

For a more detailed commentary on vehicle registration statistics, see the annual release.

Except where otherwise stated, the statistics all refer to Great Britain. UK data is available from July 2014.

For further details please refer to the Background Information section below and the separate technical notes. 0 200 400 600 800 1,000 1982 Q1 1986 Q1 1990 Q1 1994 Q1 1998 Q1 2002 Q1 2006 Q1 2010 Q1 2014 Q1 2018 Q1 Thousands of newly registered vehicles Quarter * * * * Recession

During 2018 Q1, over 15,300 new ultra low emission vehicles (ULEVs) were registered in the United Kingdom, an increase of 11% on 2017 Q1. ULEVs made up 1.8% of all new registrations. 0.0% 0.4% 0.8% 1.2% 1.6% 2.0% 2015 Q1 2016 Q1 2017 Q1 2018 Q1 Quarter ULEVs as a percentage of all new registration



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