Maersk Lines getting greener everyday

by Carolyn Gruske

Throughout the transportation industry, efforts are underway to become greener and more sustainable. The September issue of MM&D takes a look at efforts in the trucking industry and the airline world. To read about what’s happening in ocean shipping, see the web exclusive content below.

Shipping lines see a direct relationship between reducing fuel costs, saving money and doing good things for the environment.

Lee Kindberg is director, environment and sustainability for North America, for Charlotte, North Carolina-based Maersk Line. She says “fuel efficiency and air emissions, greenhouse gases and other emissions, are related to the fuel we burn, which is related to cost, so energy efficiency is very important to the shipping industry. The cost of fuel has almost doubled in the last three years, but our customers need us to keep the costs down. We also have a number of customers who are concerned about the environmental impact of their supply chains and they’ve made public commitments to make reductions in that.”

According to Kindberg, Maersk made an internal commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 25 percent per container by 2020, “and we made it eight years early.

“The more we got into it the more we realized we could find good ways to do it and the more we realized it was good for us as a business as well as being good for the environment. So we’ve increased that goal. Our new goal is to hit a 40 percent per container reduction before 2020. We continue to push hard on greenhouse gases, but we need to remember that all air emissions that are fuel related are reduced by about that same percentage.”

The shipping line has achieved its goals in a number of ways, but slow steaming and steady steaming (which involves just-in-time port arrivals) have really made a significant difference. But to really make steady steaming work, Kindberg says Maersk needed to invest in technology.

“You don’t want to speed up and slow down. The lowest steady speed will give you the best energy efficiency. To achieve that, the masters on board all of our vessels now have some decision software that helps then figure out what is the lowest, most economical speed, the lowest energy-efficient speed they can run to get between these two ports. In these days of big data we are actually looking at the performance speed and fuel consumption between every port pair.”

New ships have bulbous bows designed for slow steaming. Older ships are getting nose jobs. (Photo: Maersk)

Older vessels which weren’t designed with slow or steady steaming in mind can benefit from retrofits that make them more efficient at slower speeds, so Kindberg says Maersk is performing rhinoplasty on some of its ships

“Some of the bulbous bows we had on our vessels were actually optimized for pretty high speeds. Now that we’re going significantly slower speeds with the steady steaming, it makes financial sense to go in and modify them. You go in and cut off 100 plus tonnes of steel and replace it with something that’s a different shape. I call it rhinoplasty. It’s a nose job.”

While modifications may help older ships become more efficient, Kindberg says the most effective way to improve fuel economy is to turn to larger, newer ships that have been designed with sustainability in mind.

“With new vessels you have the opportunity to build in energy efficiency from the start. And it’s everything from hull coatings to waste-heat recovery, which means you take the heat out of the stack and use that to generate energy on board the ship. That can save 10 percent. We’ve put that on the last 50 or 60 new vessels. So there are all kinds of things you can build into those new vessels including things we’re doing with propellers and propulsion systems and vessel trim.”

Not only is the company investing in its own ships, it is also making improvements to vessels it charters, including adding in voyage management systems and making some physical changes to the ships as well, with the permission of the ships’ owners, of course.

Beyond fuel efficiency savings, Maersk, along with the industry in general, is looking at other ways to make their ships more environmentally friendly. The company is voluntarily using low sulphur fuels along the North American west coast and near other ports including Norfolk, Virgina, Singapore, Hong Kong and Gothenburg, Sweden even when not required to do so by law.

“Often it’s in places where we could partner with governments or port entities so we could help share the cost of that cleaner fuel,” says Kindberg, “but also where there is a demonstrable need in terms of air quality. For example in Hong Kong, the port is right up against the apartment complexes, it’s right in the city, and the quality is becoming infamous. We felt we had to do our part there.”

She says Maersk, along with the entire shipping industry is also looking at ways to prevent invasive species being transferred from one area of the world to another in ballast water and latched onto ships’ hulls, which is a tricky problem to solve.

The Maersk Emma incorporates the latest in sustainable technologies (Photo: Maersk)

“Any time you clean the coatings, just like when you wash your walls, you’re going to put little tiny scratches in it. If you do that too much then you’ll actually damage the paint. So each time you clean it, it builds up faster because you’ve got all those tiny little scratches for things to latch onto. So we work closely with the academics and the regulatory agencies to try to understand those things and put something in place that is technically feasible, hopefully cost-effective and still meets the environmental goals.”

It’s not just the ships themselves that Maersk is paying attention to, but the containers that are shipped on the vessels. Lindberg says Maersk, in conjunction with a university in The Netherlands, developed a reefer container that uses less than half the energy of a traditional reefer. She says that energy savings is transmitted along the whole supply chain since the containers use less energy when they’re at port, on trucks or on rail cars.

As well Maersk is thinking about the wood that goes into its traditional containers. The company has switched to certified and sustainably harvested tropical hardwood for container flooring material and is experimenting with bamboo and composite flooring as well.

Kindberg says having a shipping company partner that cares about sustainability is becoming more important for businesses.

“We are starting to see, and have for a couple years now, some major shippers show a preference for a lower impact supply chain, and being willing to pay slightly more for an energy-efficient, greener, lower-impact transportation. It’s not that common, but we are starting to see it. The nice thing about this too, is this is actually truly sustainable. Because it is making us more energy efficient and reducing our environmental impact, it means we’re in it for the long term because there’s a business benefit too, as well as an environmental one, so there’s a win-win-win. That really makes it long-term sustainable.