Mechanical sails? Batteries? Shippers forming ‘green corridors’ to fast-track cleaner technologies

It is one of the busiest container shipping routes in the world – a stream of ships loaded with furniture, cars, clothing and other goods crossing the Pacific Ocean between Los Angeles and Shanghai.

If the plans succeed, this corridor will become a flagship project for reducing greenhouse gas emissions from the shipping industry, which accounts for almost 3% of global CO2 emissions. That is less than with cars, trucks, trains or aviation, but still a lot – and the trend is rising.

The International Maritime Organization, which regulates merchant shipping, wants to halve its greenhouse gas emissions by mid-century and could target deeper cuts this year. “Shipping needs to move towards decarbonization,” said IMO Secretary-General Kitack Lim in February.

Significant ship and infrastructure changes will be required to meet the Agency’s goals. This is inspiring plans for “green shipping corridors” along key routes where new technologies and methods could be accelerated and scaled up.

More than 20 of these partnerships have been proposed. They are currently mostly on paper, but are likely to take shape in the coming years. The goal: to unite marine fuel producers, ship owners and operators, cargo owners and ports in a joint effort.


Los Angeles and Shanghai partnered last year.

“The vision is for a container to leave a factory on a zero-emission truck[in China],” said Gene Seroka, executive director of the Port of Los Angeles.

“It will arrive at the Port of Shanghai, be loaded onto a ship from a zero-emissions cargo handling facility, and be transported across the Pacific Ocean on a zero-carbon emitting ship. Once it arrives in Los Angeles, the opposite happens, which is carbon-free processing and distribution.

Los Angeles struck a second deal with nearby Long Beach and Singapore in April. Other projects in progress include the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River; a Chilean network; and numerous corridors in Asia, North America and Europe.

C40 Cities, a global climate change coalition of mayors, advocates green corridors as “tools that can translate ambition into action and bring together the entire shipping value chain,” said Alisa Kreynes, associate director.

But Kreynes warned, “I wonder how much of it is PR and how much of it is actually put into practice. It’s going to require a cultural shift in how we think about how we get things from point A to point B.”

New approaches being developed in green corridors could yield quick results, said John Bradshaw, technical director for environment and safety at the World Shipping Council. “I am very confident that the industry will be zero emissions by 2050.”

pressure builds up

From tea to tennis shoes, the items in your pantry and cupboards have likely spent time on a ship.

Approximately 90% of traded goods move on water, some in huge vessels longer than four football fields, each containing thousands of containers of consumer goods. About 58,000 merchant ships sail the seas.

Their emissions are less noticeable than those from land transport such as trucks, although the noxious exhaust fumes from ships are causing complaints in port communities.

The volume of maritime trade is expected to triple by 2050, according to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development. Studies suggest that the industry’s share of greenhouse gas emissions could reach 15%.

However, the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement provides an exception for maritime shipping, in part because ships do business globally while the agreement covers national destinations.

“No one wants to take responsibility,” said Allyson Browne of Pacific Environment, an advocacy group. “A ship may fly the flag of China, but who takes responsibility for that ship’s emissions when it transports goods to the US?”

The IMO responded to mounting pressure with a 2018 plan that called for a 50% reduction in emissions by mid-century from 2008 levels. An update scheduled for July could set more ambitious targets favored by the US, Europe and small island nations. Opponents include Brazil, China and India.

The Biden administration is aiming for a zero-emissions goal, a State Department official told The Associated Press.

But less than half of the major shipping companies have committed to meeting international carbon targets. And there is no consensus on how to achieve them.

Proposals range from slowing shipping to charging emissions like the European Union did last year.

“Global shipping is difficult to decarbonize … because of the energy it takes to move long distances with heavy cargo,” said Lee Kindberg, head of environment and sustainability at Maersk North America, part of AP Moller-Maersk, which has more than 700 company has ships. “It’s a long shot, but we think it’s doable.”


mechanical sails. batteries. Liquid fuels with low or zero carbon content.

They are among the propulsion methods touted as a replacement for the “bunker fuel” that powers most merchant ships – thick residue from oil refining. It emits greenhouse gases and pollutants that endanger human health: sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, soot.

For green shipping corridors, finding alternatives will be a priority.

Liquid natural gas is currently the first choice. It is used by 923 out of 1,349 non-conventional fuel merchant vessels worldwide, according to a study last year by DNV, a Norway-based maritime accreditation body. Ships with batteries or hybrid systems come in second by some distance.

Many environmentalists oppose LNG because it emits methane, another powerful greenhouse gas. Defenders say it’s the fastest and least expensive replacement for bunker fuel.

Of the 1,046 alternative energy vessels on order, 534 will be LNG-powered, while 417 are battery hybrid vessels, DNV reported. Another 35 will use methanol, which analysts see as an emerging cleaner alternative.

Moller-Maersk plans to launch 12 cargo ships next year that will use “green methanol” made from renewable sources such as plant waste. Some of its ships are powered by biodiesel made from used cooking oil.

The company is working on research that could lead to ammonia- or hydrogen-powered ships by the mid-2030s.

“This is the first step in transitioning our fleet to something much more climate friendly,” Kindberg said.

Norsepower offers a new twist on an old technology: wind.

The Finnish company has developed “rotor sails” – composite cylinders about 30 meters high that are mounted on ship decks and rotate in the wind. Differences in air pressure on opposite sides of whirring devices help propel a ship forward.

An independent analysis found that installing rotor sails on a Maersk oil tanker in 2018 resulted in an 8.2% fuel saving in one year. Norsepower CEO Tuomas Riski said others have saved 5 to 25% depending on wind conditions, vessel type and other factors.

Thirteen ships are using the devices or have ordered them, Riski said.

“Mechanical sails play an essential role in decarbonizing shipping,” he said. “They can’t do it alone, but they can make a big contribution.”

Fleetzero believes electric ships are best placed to decarbonize industry. The company was founded in Alabama two years ago to build cargo ships with rechargeable battery packs.

CEO Steven Henderson says he envisions fleets of smaller, more maneuverable vessels than giant container ships. They would call at ports that have freshly charged batteries to exchange them for ones that are almost empty. Fleetzero’s prototype ship is scheduled to begin delivering cargo later this year.


Before companies build or buy low-emission ships, they want to make sure that clean fuels are available and affordable.

The companies that produce the fuels, meanwhile, want enough ships to use them to ensure strong markets.

And both require port infrastructure to accommodate new-generation vessels, such as power outlets and clean fuel delivery mechanisms.

But ports are waiting for demand to justify such expensive upgrades. Switching land-based cargo handling equipment and trucks to zero-emission models will cost the Port of Los Angeles $20 billion, officials say.

“Once you mark a (green) corridor on the map,” said Jason Anderson, senior program director at the nonprofit ClimateWorks Foundation, “they’re at least going in the same direction.”

Success requires government regulation and corridor funding, as well as support from shipping industry customers, said Jing Sun, a professor of marine engineering at the University of Michigan.

“Shipping is the cheapest way to move things,” Sun said.

An organization called Cargo Owners for Zero Emission Vessels is committed to using only zero-emission shipping companies by 2040. The 19 signatories include Amazon, Michelin and Target.

“When large corporate buyers come together and say this needs to happen, the rest of the chain has the confidence to make the investments that are needed,” said Ingrid Irigoyen, associate director of the nonprofit Aspen Institute, which helped put together the group.


Follow John Flesher on Twitter: @JohnFlesher


The Associated Press’s climate and environmental reporting is supported by several private foundations. For more information on AP’s climate initiative, click here. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

Russell Falcon

Russell Falcon is a USTimesPost U.S. News Reporter based in London. His focus is on U.S. politics and the environment. He has covered climate change extensively, as well as healthcare and crime. Russell Falcon joined USTimesPost in 2023 from the Daily Express and previously worked for Chemist and Druggist and the Jewish Chronicle. He is a graduate of Cambridge University. Languages: English. You can get in touch with me by emailing

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