EcoTrade talked to Dr. Lingxiao Wu, assistant professor at the Department of Aeronautical and Aviation Engineering, The Hong Kong Polytechnic University about the decarbonisation of the shipping industry.
EcoTrade: Why has decarbonization become so important for the shipping industry?
Dr. Lingxiao Wu: It is widely believed that fossil fuel burning is a primal cause of global warming, which has been bringing environmental and ecological damage.
Shipping is recognized as the most efficient transport mode in terms of the energy consumed per tonne of cargo transported one mile. However, due to its enormous scale, the industry contributes to about 2.9% of the global anthropogenic greenhouse gas (GHGs) emissions. Therefore, the decarbonisation of the shipping industry is crucial to curb GHG emissions and mitigate global warming.
EcoTrade: What are the main challenges in the transition to zero carbon—and what solutions have caught your attention?
Dr. Lingxiao Wu: Based on my research, there are generally two challenges facing the decarbonisation of the shipping industry.
First, insufficient financial support. For shipping companies, decarbonisation requires retrofitting their fleets (e.g., installing shore power equipment or scrubbers) and using cleaner alternative fuels. These incur huge investments in equipment and significant increases in operational costs. Considering their thin profit margins, decarbonisation can bring considerable financial burdens to shipping companies.
Second, lack of effective surveillance. It is difficult to monitor the emissions from vessels when they are sailing on the open sea.
For the potential solutions, first, governments should consider providing subsidies for shipping companies for supporting their decarbonisation activities. Second, for better surveillance, authorities can use drones for monitoring vessels on coastal or inland waterways. Meanwhile, satellite imagery provides a feasible solution for monitoring vessels on intercontinental routes
EcoTrade: What technologies can be deployed at scale and in the right way for a successful transition to net-zero shipping?
Dr. Lingxiao Wu: As far as I know, shore power facilities have been established in a number of ports around the globe.
Key insight: Small and mid-size companies can reduce bunker fuel consumption and vessel emissions by dynamically and smartly adjusting vessel speeds
EcoTrade: What can small and mid-size companies do to decarbonize their operations?
Dr. Lingxiao Wu: Small and mid-size companies can reduce bunker fuel consumption and vessel emissions by dynamically and smartly adjusting vessel speeds according to port congestions, shipping requirements, and weather conditions. One particular strategy is the virtual arrival policy which brings economic and environmental benefits to shipping companies, ports, and society as a whole.
EcoTrade: Where do you predict the industry will be in a decade’s time?
Dr. Lingxiao Wu: The development of various decarbonization techniques, together with the adoption of data analytics and operations research methods, are driving maritime transportation toward a more intelligent, efficient, and sustainable industry.
About Dr. Lingxiao Wu:
Dr. Lingxiao Wu is an Assistant Professor at the Department of Aeronautical and Aviation Engineering, The Hong Kong Polytechnic University. Dr. Wu is dedicated to promoting intelligent, efficient, and sustainable transportation systems, especially in the field of aviation and maritime transportation. His research expertise and interests mainly lie in the design and implementation of methods that combine operations research and data analytics for solving problems arising in logistics management and transportation. His research has appeared in leading international journals.
This interview is part of an ongoing series where we invite sustainability leaders to discuss challenges and opportunities in the Asia-Pacific region’s transition to carbon-neutral economies.