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Path Towards the Decarbonization of International Shipping


The 2015 Paris Agreement promoted the need for decarbonization by 2050. In 2018 IMO adopted initial strategies to reduce greenhouse gases (GHG) emissions including milestones to reduce emissions by 50% to meet the 2050 targets. It is argued that these targets are not very aggressive. The International Transportation Forum Projects that 95% decarbonization could be reached by 2035 if there is a concerted push to deploy current known technologies more quickly.

Currently strategies are being developed by ports and shipping companies for the decarbonization of marine freight movements; these strategies include:

  • Use of low carbon and renewable fuels (e.g., biodiesel/biogas, LNG/CNG, hydrogen, wind propulsion and solar options);* Changes to ship and engine design to improve efficiency and reduce GHG emissions;
  • Electrification/hybrid vessels and port cargo handling equipment;* Application of more efficient intermodal transfers to ship and rail;* Vessel and port operational changes (e.g., extended vessel reduced speed zones, virtual arrival systems, digitalization of cargo handling, drayage truck traffic optimization, on dock rail links);
  • Use of fuel cells as a power source for port and shore power applications; and
  • Efficiency improvements for port facility heating/cooling.

Many of these options have been studied extensively by other agencies and port authorities, therefore the objective of this assessment is to learn for the successes and issues encountered from these earlier initiatives. This project will identify decarbonization initiatives, compiling information on implementation, program costs, unintended consequences, and estimates to quantify associated emission reductions. The project should also include new requirements for EEDI and other environmental indexes (Environmental Ship Index, Environmental Port index…) that document the application of these options, as well as the use of these indicators in port incentive programs that may further encourage decarbonization.


This compilation of lesson’s learned could be of value to smaller ports and agencies that are interested in initiating their own decarbonization program and want to build upon the successes of other ports and anticipate potential issues of implementation.

Related Research:

TRB has published paper on decarbonization of passenger vehicles, use of hydrogen as a transportation fuel in British Columbia, decarbonization of long distance freight movements, but nothing specific to port operations.


To get important information to interested parties it is necessary to compile available studies of decarbonization initiatives into a user friendly database which can be posted online. To support these activities the following phases of this project need to be implemented:

*Phase 1 – Compile available decarbonization studies *

A search should be implemented to identify all available decarbonization studies. The intention is to incorporate these studies into a user friendly database. A data structure will need to be developed that allows for the inclusion of critical and ancillary data flags that represent the content of these studies in order to facilitates user searches.

Phase 2 – Development and population of decarbonization database.

Based on the insight developed in Phase 1, a database structure will need to be developed and populated with the preliminary studies compiled in Phase 1. To ensure the database is functional in the future, it may be necessary to use a runtime version of Access or develop a web based data storage system.

Phase 3 - Database testing

Test the populated database, including:

· Search functionality.

· Ability to upload and download studies.

· Possible security issues.

The database should be updated based on comments received from the testers

Phase 4 – Posting the database on the website and update annually.

· The posting of the database will need to be made to a secure website. The site should be set up to allow others to submit additional studies electronically. Submitted data will need to be vetted prior to inclusion in the next update. Search functions will need to be set up to allow users to easily locate appropriate studies. It may be possible to find an academic institute or government agency that could host the site and help with updates.

· Once the database is operational, develop a list of groups that have implemented successful decarbonization project and would like to communicate their findings to others who may be interested in implementing something similar. Reach out to the identified groups and encourage them to submit their information to the database.

· Develop a list of ports or other groups or agencies who could be interested in decarbonization and contact them via email and electronic postings noting the accessibility of the database and the information that it is designed to store.

· Consider a campaign to demonstrate the database at conferences and workshops.


Governmental agencies such as the EPA, IMO or the UN IPCC, may find that the products of this project compliment their marine vessel programs; to this end their participation would be important in implementing this project in conjunction with academic institutions, consulting services, and non-governmental organizations.


: This project has direct value for, port authorities, government agencies, academic institutes, consultants, and non-governmental organizations that support decarbonization efforts.

Sponsoring Committee:AW030, Marine Environment
Research Period:12 - 24 months
Research Priority:High
RNS Developer:Richard Billings
Source Info:There are a number of highly relevant studies developed by ports, state and local agencies, and academic institutions, that would be useful in assessing the viability of different decarbonization options, Including:

MO GHG reduction strategies (http://www.imo.org/en/MediaCentre/HotTopics/GHG/Pages/default.aspx)

Improved ship design (https://ensia.com/features/ship-carbon/

MAERSK plans to deploy a fully decarbonized fleet by 2050 (https://www.maersk.com/news/articles/2019/06/26/towards-a-zero-carbon-future)

Green port LNG initiatives (https://www.greenport.com/news101/asia/decarbonisation-key-to-green-initiative)

Port of Oslo – Plans for Zero Discharge http://oslohavn.no/globalassets/oslo-havn/dokumenter/oslo-havn-planer-rapporter-brosjyrer-2019/3153-rapport-strategiplan-2019-pdf.pdf

Port of Rotterdam – Efficiency improvements and shifts toward electrification; biofuel and hydrogen fuel options; and capture and control initiatives https://www.portofrotterdam.com/sites/default/files/por_priorities_energy_transition_european_elections_2019.pdf

Port of Valencia - Efficiency improvements and use of hybrid and electric equipment, application of LED lighting, (https://www.valenciaport.com/en/la-autoridad-portuaria-de-valencia-preve-reducir-su-huella-de-carbono-un-4-hasta-el-ano-2020/)
Date Posted:11/01/2020
Date Modified:01/19/2021
Index Terms:International transportation, Ocean shipping, Greenhouse gases, Freight transportation, Cargo handling, Ports,
Cosponsoring Committees: 
Marine Transportation
Freight Transportation

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