Maritime Transport

Maritime fuel demand is likely to remain oil-based in the coming decades, with consumption continuing to grow until 2030. After that, the IEA’s most ambitious scenario for reducing CO2 expects demand for oil-based maritime fuel to decline considerably by 2050. Even under this assumption, the maritime sector will represent about 12% of the transportation sector’s total energy mix.

This estimate is clearly based on optimistic assumptions regarding the development and uptake of biofuels. A more cautious alternative scenario indicates that maritime oil demand will peak in 2030, thereafter stabilising. The penetration of LNG into the maritime fuel market is also highly uncertain prior to 2050.


The international shipping industry is responsible for delivering about 90% of all trade worldwide. Needless to say, it is vital to the functioning of our global economies. Without shipping, intercontinental trade, the bulk transport of raw materials and the import of food and goods would be impossible. Efforts are currently being made to improve this important sector’s energy efficiency and, although shipping is likely to continue to be dominated by liquid fuels from primary energy sources, there is significant potential for reducing CO2 levels. However, any reduction in emissions will be dependent on avoiding the effects of carbon leakage, which will require that all measures adopted be applied on a uniform and global basis.

Shipping is estimated to have emitted 870 million tonnes of CO2 in 2009, which equates to 2.7% of all global GHG emissions in the same year. The International Maritime Organisation’s (IMO) emissions forecasts show that by 2050, in the absence of new policies, total emissions from the shipping sector may grow by as much as 150% (compared to 2007 levels) to 250% as the industry continues to grow. Technical and operational measures may increase the sector’s energy efficiency, thus helping to reduce GHG rates by between 25% and 75% per tonne-kilometre below current levels. Although many of these measures appear to be cost-efficient, non-financial barriers may discourage implementation.

Replacing oil-based fuels with renewable energies – such as energy generated via solar cells and wind power – although technically feasible, offer only a partial solution due to the variations in intensity and peak power levels of their natural sources. Using fuels with lower CO2 emissions, such as biofuels and liquefied natural gas (LNG), may also serve as a possible replacement for oil-based fuels. Once again, although technically possible, the use of first generation biofuels may pose some on-board storage and handling challenges (e.g. plugging of filters, microbial growth), along with issues relating to limited availability and uncompetitive prices. Combined, these challenges make it unlikely that a large scale use of these fuels will happen in the near future. However, LNG has the best chance of becoming economically viable, principally for ships operating within Emission Control Areas (ECAs) and where LNG is available. In Europe, the Baltic Sea and North Sea are both ECAs where specifications are notably tighter.

Sulphur content

The tightening of the IMO maritime fuel specifications scheduled for the next decade presents a challenge for the global refining industry. By 2015, the maximum allowable sulphur content in ECAs is scheduled to be cut to 0.1% – well below what is feasible for bunker fuel oil. This means maritime fuel demand in ECAs will be met by maritime gasoil. Another challenge the sector is facing is the proposed tightening of the global fuel specification. By 2020, or 2025 at the latest, the IMO intends to limit global sulphur content to only 0.5%.

Current maritime fuel use in EU ECAs is estimated at 20 million tonnes, most of which is bunker fuel oil. These tighter limits mean that within five years, EU refiners will need to supply an additional 15 million tonnes of gasoil to the shipping industry.