Cargo ship emissions cut 17% in new trials — all thanks to one shockingly simple change

An overhead view of a cargo ship on water, with multi-colored peices of cargo.

Cargo ships rival the aviation industry in the amount of global greenhouse gas emissions they produce — releasing an average of 140 million metric tons of carbon dioxide annually. 

But container ships, and their bulk carrier counterparts, are vital to the transportation of essential goods around the globe. And they’re here to stay. 

In recent years, scientists have been working to engineer solutions that cut down on the massive carbon footprint of cargo ships. In 2023, a cargo ship fitted with “WindWings” sails set off on its maiden voyage. 

The 123 foot sails opened up once the ship crossed into open waters, allowing the ship to harness the wind for a portion of its journey, instead of solely relying on a fuel-based engine. 

Even earlier, in 2021, French company Airseas installed a “parafoil” to the front of one of their cargo ships, a massive kite designed to billow out and carry the vessel forward across the water. It was estimated to cut down on emissions by 20%. 

But alterations like these come at a price, making companies reluctant to implement them on a massive scale. Enter the Blue Visby Solution: a proposal dedicated to cutting down on maritime emissions by 15% — no sails or kites required. 

Their solution combats a problem common to the shipping industry, called “Sail Fast Then Wait.” The Blue Visby team realized that most cargo ships travel at break-neck speeds, regardless of the docking situation or weather events that await them at their destination. 

Often, a cargo ship will reach port before they’re able to unload, leaving them idling for hours — or even days — and burning fuel all the while. 

A black, white, and red cargo ship on water at daytime.
A cargo ship sets out on its voyage. Photo courtesy of Diego Fernandez/Unsplash

The Blue Visby Solution is simple: slow down and talk to each other. Their plan carefully coordinates vessel positions, port conditions, weather data, and incentivizes participation between companies to help optimize their ships’ passage. 

And it’s not just about cutting down on idling. When ships move more slowly, they also reduce ​​hydrodynamic drag, which leads to less fuel burnt on open waters. 

“Decarbonization is unattainable without energy efficiency, and energy efficiency is impossible if ships continue to ‘Sail Fast Then Wait,’” Haris Zografakis and Pekka Pakkanen — coordinators of the Blue Visby Consortium — said in a joint statement

Last week, the Blue Visby Consortium put their solution to the test by studying the effects of their “benefit sharing mechanisms” on the passages of two merchant vessels — Gerdet Oldendorff and Begonia — as they delivered goods to the CBH Group grain terminal in Western Australia. 

A black and red cargo ship on water during daytime.
A cargo ship waits to dock into a port. Photo courtesy of William William/Unsplash

The Gerdet Oldendorff ship saw a CO2 reduction of 28.2%, and the Begonia ship cut emissions by 12.9% — resulting in an average of 17.3% reduced emissions. 

“The operational side of the Blue Visby Solution was rigorously tested in the CBH Prototype Trials, both in its interaction with the software systems as well as with the vessels,” said Risto-Juhani Kariranta, marine operations lead. 

Kariranta said that the trials weren’t flawless by any means, but that just means they were able to apply real-world pressures to their system. 

“The robustness of our systems was proven when we had to deal with the operational complexities when one of the ships had to deviate,” Kariranta explained. “We have also learned valuable lessons about the outlook of vessels’ crews and how they can provide support.” 

Based on the data gathered in hindsight from 284 cargo ships piloted across 2021-2023, the Blue Visby team estimated that their solutions had the potential to reduce CO2 emissions by 25.6% per ship. 

“We are very satisfied with all the tests conducted in the course of the CBH Prototype Trials,” said Kimmo Laaksonen, software development lead of the program. “And we will continue to make refinements in upcoming voyages.” 

Header image courtesy of Venti Views/Unsplash

Article Details

May 22, 2024 10:44 AM
A giant pangolin in desert sand. It is a massive scaly creature with a long tail, claws, and a slender snout.

Endangered 'walking pinecone' mammal spotted after 24 year absence

Conservationists thought that this massive, scaly creature was gone altogether in this West African country, until it was spotted on their trail cameras for the first time since 1999.
A large Colorado expanse, showing a view of a mountain range dotted by evergreen trees

These state parks now offer blind visitors an app to help them safely explore on their own

One state will now offer free access to an accessibility app called Aira, helping blind and low vision state park visitors enjoy their adventures.
No items found.

Want to stay up-to-date on positive news?

The best email in your inbox.
Filled with the day’s best good news.