Earlier this month, it was my honor to be invited to join select maritime industry…
The Race for Sustainable Strategies and the Nuclear Option
As the maritime industry moves its way into the decade, the race to find ways of reaching complete decarbonization not only continues, it intensifies.
Not only do those in the maritime industry have to contend with the current IMO regulations, but they also have to contend with ones for the future. By 2030, emissions are supposed to be reduced by at least 45 percent and reach complete neutrality by 2050. As the race against climate change rages on, the industry has to work faster and faster to have sustainable energy sources and fuel alternatives.
Along with trying to reduce emissions and comply with regulations, members of the industry have to plan exactly how they are going to remain compliant. Though there are several fuel alternatives, not every short-term solution will remain one as not every solution and alternate source of power can remain “future-proof.” This means that though some solutions are better than current sources of power, they are still finite and only a means of transition to cleaner sources of energy. For example, though LNG is an alternate fuel that reduces carbon emissions and is economically viable, it might not be a viable renewable energy source if there isn’t a way to lower its methane emission during production.
As the shipping industry moves towards reaching zero-emissions, solutions seem to be everywhere. When it comes to reducing emissions, some companies are looking at building ships that will be more technologically advanced, while others are focused on retrofitting their current ones to extend their lifecycle. Some companies believe that investing in fully digitalized and automated ships will be key to a greener future since they will not require crews or fuel. Others believe building ships that will use renewable sources of energy such as wind, solar, or a combination of both will ultimately be the most cost-effective and sustainable. Other shipowners believe that being able to innovate on current technologies and build “plug and play” systems that can be used on ships now are the answer to not just moving towards a cleaner future but actually getting there.
One particular energy source that is currently at the forefront of the debate on the best energy alternative is nuclear power. Nuclear power is being increasingly thought of as a viable energy source for ships and one of its biggest proponents is Bill Gates.
TerraPower, Gate’s nuclear innovation company, founded to support communities in poverty who lack electricity or modern technology, is now working with Southern Company, Orano USA, and Core-Power to develop a marine Molten Salt Reactor (m-MSR) type “atomic battery pack” which could power the largest ships and production of green synthetic fuels for smaller ships.
As climate change changes the world in alarming ways, it also has the potential to become a main driver of technological innovation paving the way for safer and cleaner energy solutions. The m-MSR’s coolant is a salt mixture that takes a massive explosion (usually common of reactors) out of the equation, making it both safer to produce and control. This technology also has the potential to be even more powerful and more cost-effective than other sources of energy, capable of powering a large ship for life without refueling, with no carbon emissions.
However, for the time being, no one solution is the solution for all. Some ships will use a hybrid approach, like fuel and battery power, as they transition to clean energy sources. Whatever alternative energy sources are used, cleaner energy may just end up being better energy from an environmental as well as economic perspective. Shipping companies will have to race towards reducing emissions if they want to stay relevant in the industry as more powerful, environmentally sustainable, and economically sound solutions are increasingly used. Thus, addressing climate change and having clean sources of energy have become not just moral decisions, but practical ones as well.