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How can we decarbonise shipping?

An interview with Richard von Berlepsch, Hapag-Lloyd

Richard von Berlepsch
Richard von Berlepsch, Managing Director Fleet Management at Hapag-Lloyd

Climate change poses major challenges for international shipping. Although no other transport mode is more efficient per tonne of transported goods, emissions must be reduced by 50% by 2050 – as clearly stated by global regulator, the International Maritime Organisation (IMO). A pioneer in this maritime energy transition is Hapag-Lloyd, one of the world's leading shipping companies with a fleet of 237 container ships.


Richard von Berlepsch, Managing Director Fleet Management at Hapag-Lloyd, explains how the decarbonisation of shipping can succeed.

Mr. Von Berlepsch, climate activist Greta Thunberg has called on the shipping industry to do more to combat climate change. Is she right?

Of course, she is. Climate change and clean oceans are two core issues that we are addressing very seriously. The whole industry has to. If we want to be completely CO2-neutral by 2100, no-one can do it alone; everyone has to work together. The challenge is to drive such improvements forward while, at the same time, remaining competitive.


How can this succeed?

It requires mutual, global valid requirements and regulations. The best example is the IMO 2020 regulation. This stipulates that, from next year on, we will only operate our ships with fuels that have a very low sulphur content. Experts’ best current estimate is that such fuel will cost around 250 euros more per tonne, meaning that a shipping company of our size will have to reckon with additional costs of over one billion euros per year. You can only implement an initiative like this on the back of mandatory regulations – this is where voluntary participation ends.


Don’t such rules already exist?

Yes, there are already some regulations, but the question of executing them has not yet been resolved. The best regulations are of no use if not monitored and enforced. There is still a need for action, but I am confident that the IMO will find a solution soon.


From the regulatory side of things to the technical: is a “maritime energy transition” feasible?

In any case, it is certain that the classic combustion engine, which runs on heavy fuel oil, is not the solution to CO2-free shipping. We need new propulsion technologies or new fuels. An important step in this direction is liquefied natural gas (LNG) as an alternative fuel. Next year, we will be converting the first large container ship to LNG propulsion, together with MAN Energy Solutions, among others. This will be the world's first project of this magnitude.


Operation with LNG significantly reduces greenhouse gas emissions and has been the industry's trump card for years, however little has happened. Why is the change in technology so slow?

That's easy to explain as there still is no comprehensive supply of LNG worldwide. For example, the first bunker ships capable of supplying large container ships will not be operational until 2020. So, if you had opted for LNG four years ago, there was simply no fuel available. We are also talking about a significant investment but have now reached the point where we believe that such an investment will pay off. The conversion of the ‘Sajir’ is intended as a lighthouse project – we want to prove that ships of this size can be successfully and economically converted to LNG. This is groundbreaking as many people are still questioning it at the moment. If we succeed together, then we will set an important precedent for environmentally friendly shipping.


Although the use of LNG reduces emissions, it is not yet climate-neutral. What will the zero-emission ships of the future run on?

LNG will certainly bring us closer to 2050 targets but, to become completely climate-neutral by 2100, we need another, technological leap forward. There are a lot of good ideas at the moment, but many still have to mature. One possibility is certainly hydrogen as a fuel, which can also be produced climate-neutrally with the help of renewable energy. This is promising but hydrogen currently poses an enormous challenge in terms of its safe use. There is still much work to be done.


What are you betting on?

I don't know what the climate-neutral ship propulsion system of the future will look like, but I know that we will find it. We’re not alone in this: the entire industry is putting all its efforts into finding the solution and there are many ideas. I am curious to see what will prevail.


The Sajir from Hapag-Lloyd will be the first mega-container vessel to be retrofitted to dual-fuel operation
potential reduction of CO2 emissions
The Sajir will be the largest container vessel to be retrofitted to LNG
> 90% reduction in SOx and NOx emissions

The conversion of the ‘Sajir’ is a lighthouse project – we want to prove that ships of this size can be successfully and economically converted to LNG.

Richard von Berlepsch, Managing Director Fleet Management at Hapag-Lloyd

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