EU looks into future of greener shipping

Greener ships and waterborne transport are vital components for reaching the 2020 CO2 emission target and giving Europe an additional competitive edge. This was the general consensus among industry representatives, researchers and policy-makers on 28 February in Brussels, where the European Commission hosted the 'European research for clean waterborne transport event'. The event showcased three EU-funded projects in the area of sea and river transport.

In the framework of the CREATING ('Concepts to reduce environmental impact and attain optimal transport performance by inland navigation') project, the research consortium, together with oil multinational BP, developed a low-emission, fuel efficient and environmentally friendly barge, 'Victoria', that had come to Brussels especially for the event. Due to modifications to the engine of the Victoria, her soot, nitrogen oxide (NOx) and sulphur oxide (SOx) emissions have been reduced substantially by up to 98%. In addition, a specially developed navigation system helps to optimise the route and speed of travel, cutting down fuel consumption.

'Greening is an essential objective of European transport research, and inland navigation provides a particularly relevant, environmentally friendly and cost effective alternative to other forms of transport of heavy goods in Europe,' European Research Commissioner Janez Potocnik commented after visiting the Victoria.

The HERCULES ('High efficiency engine R&D on combustion with ultra low emissions for ships') project, following a similar train of thought to CREATING, is working on increasing the efficiency and reliability of marine diesel engines while reducing emissions at the same time. The METHAPU ('Validation of renewable methanol based auxiliary power system for commercial vessels') project, on the other hand, is developing methanol fuel cell technology for the maritime sector.

According to Mr Potocnik, the particular importance of these projects to European research and the EU's Framework Programmes lies in their being examples for great cooperation between the public and the private sector. 'It also shows that the private sector has taken an interest and sees a perspective in clean and more environmentally friendly technologies,' he told CORDIS News. CREATING, for instance, 'is an example where we see in practice that this can be done. Of course, one vessel is not the answer. It's an answer maybe from the research point of view, but we have to do everything via regulation, via legislation, via market incentives in order to create a situation where this will be the reality of our lives.'

Speaking at the event, Dorette Corbey, Dutch Member of the European Parliament, assured the European Commission of the European Parliament's support for efforts to make shipping greener, but also pointed out the need for legislation. 'Shipping is up until now a sector which has been fully excluded from all regulations on climate change,' Ms Corbey explained. 'If we want to reduce CO2 emissions or greenhouse emissions in 2020 by 20% or even 30% if the rest of the world joins us, then it becomes very much necessary to look at all sectors, where improvements and reductions can be made. So, we are looking at the aviation sector. We're looking at the industry sector. But the next sector to come on board is the shipping sector.

The problem is, of course, the international regulations because as Member States or even the European Union you cannot easily impose new rules on shipping. Especially for sea shipping, this is regulated by the IMO [International Maritime Organization]. So, therefore, we asked the Commission to look at the example of Sweden, where the government has introduced an incentive scheme for green ships. So, greener ships pay less money in harbours than dirty ships,' Ms Corbey said, still stressing that legislation, for instance in the form of new emission standards, was also required.

Some 90% of European external trade and 40% of internal trade are carried by sea. While waterborne transport is particularly efficient and fuel efficient compared with other modes of transport - a ship consumes the same amount of fuel over 500 kilometres as a plane on only 6.6 kilometres or a lorry on 100 kilometres - experts estimate that shipping will be the largest source of CO2 emissions in 15 years' time.

'If we are looking from the economical-environmental point of view, it [waterborne transport] has quite a bright future and we are not using the full potential of the transport via rivers or via the sea,' Commissioner Potocnik said. 'It is more economical and more efficient and if we compare how much fuel is used with other modes of transport, it is obvious that it has great potential. But it is clear that each part of transport in the future will have to play an important role and, on the other hand, each part of the transport will need to make an effort to become more environmentally friendly.'

29. Februar 2008)

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