A new type of container ship has just set sail from South Korea to Denmark. It’s the first ever to run on green methanol - made from methane captured from food waste at landfills - and thereby able to cut emissions by two thirds compared to conventional fuels.
That's great news for the planet, as shipping currently accounts for the same global emissions as the airline industry.
The even better news is that it's not a one-off. Maersk, one of the world’s largest shipping companies, ordered the ship two years ago as part of a commitment to only buy new ships that can use green fuels. The company already has another 25 of the ships on order, and it’s also beginning to retrofit older ships to use the same fuel.
By the end of the decade, the company - which operates more than 700 ships, and owns 300 of them - plans to transport a quarter of its ocean cargo using green fuels. Three years ago, no ships of this type were on order. Now five other major carriers are also buying them, with 120 ships in the works.
Green methanol, which can be made either from gas from plant sources like food waste, or from renewable electricity and green hydrogen, can cut a ship’s emissions by 65-70%.
Since it can’t fully eliminate emissions, green methanol is not a perfect solution. But because the industry is a major polluter, and getting on track to meet the Paris climate goals requires immediate action, Maersk (and other carriers) chose to move forward with green methanol because it knew it was feasible.
The next challenge is scaling up production of the fuel and bringing down the cost, which is currently twice as expensive as conventional fuel. However, as the extra cost trickles down, the impact is relatively small. For example, the price of a pair of sneakers crossing the ocean powered by green fuel might mean paying an extra five cents. Surely a price worth paying.