How this Singapore-based non-profit is building capacities for maritime energy transition policies

Oleh Si Ying Thian

With an emerging focus on regulating maritime fuels to reach net-zero by 2050, Dr Sanjay C Kuttan from the Global Centre for Maritime Decarbonisation shares what the organisation is doing to lower adoption barriers and increase uptake of more sustainable practices in the shipping industry.

Sanjay Kuttan from GCMD shares what the non-profit is doing ahead of time to build the capacity of the shipping industry for low and zero-emissions policies. Image: Global Centre for Maritime Decarbonisation (GCMD)'s LinkedIn. 

This is the second of a two-part series on what it takes for the maritime industry to meet its net-zero ambitions by around 2050. The first part of this series can be read here


Following the recent working group meeting among International Maritime Organisation (IMO) members, the greenhouse gas (GHG) fuel standard is set to be a key driver for the industry to meet its net-zero target ‘by or around 2050.'


The GHG fuel standard is a technical standard first proposed by EU member states to ensure a gradual reduction of emissions from shipping.


The IMO strategy aims to reduce minimally 20% and ideally 30% of GHG emissions by 2030, and minimally 70% and ideally 80% by 2040. The technical standard is set to be mandated by 2027.


The strategy also highlights the need for the transition to be just and equitable, to ensure no stakeholder is left behind.


Speaking to GovInsider, Dr Sanjay C Kuttan, Chief Technology Officer of the Global Centre for Maritime Decarbonisation (GCMD), a non-profit formed by Singapore’s Maritime and Port Authority, shares what GCMD is doing ahead of time to prepare the shipping industry for the changes.


1. What are the key technical standards and regulations we need to see developed to support the transition to a net-zero future?


IMO, a specialised agency of the United Nations responsible for the safety and security of shipping and the prevention of marine and atmospheric pollution by ships, has come up with a “basket of measures” to decarbonise shipping.


This “basket of measures” will include a technical element and an economic element.


The technical element is expected to be a GHG fuel standard that will gradually reduce the allowable wake-to-well CO2e intensity of marine fuels, while the economic element, namely a maritime GHG emissions pricing mechanism, will aim to level the playing field between the cost of green and conventional fuels.


GHG intensities of marine fuels required to align the GHG Fuel Standard with IMO’s 2023 GHG strategy. Image: The International Council of Clean Transportation (ICCT).


These measures are to be adopted in 2025, with an envisaged entry into force in 2027.


Achieving this will require a combination of scaling adoption of current and new energy efficiency technologies and adoption of low-carbon fuels including ammonia, methanol, hydrogen and next generation biofuels.


In this regard, GCMD’s work on ammonia bunkering safety directly addresses the need for technical standard development in this area.


To help lower the adoption barriers of using ammonia as a shipping fuel, GCMD’s safety study has identified risks associated with piloting ammonia bunkering and competencies required for safe execution and is actively contributing our findings to national standards bodies, such as the working group for ammonia bunkering.


This aligns with our mission to support decarbonisation of the industry to meet or exceed the IMO goals for 2030 and 2050 by shaping standards. GCMD recognises the importance of regulatory and policy frameworks in driving the transition to a net-zero carbon maritime industry.


2. With various alternative fuels and technologies emerging, which hold the most promise for different vessel types and segments within the maritime industry?


With approximately 60,000 merchant ships of varying types, sizes, and age on the water today, that ply different trade routes, coupled with extended asset replacement cycles, conservative practices, and dispersed ownership comprising a large network of SMEs, a rapid green transition for the shipping sector faces substantial obstacles.


As such, there's no single solution that works to decarbonise shipping. Maritime decarbonisation necessitates exploring multiple fuel options in the long run, including ammonia, methanol and biofuels, each with its own advantages and challenges.


Given the uncertainties surrounding both the availability and cost of zero-carbon fuels, the industry must explore other immediate and medium-term measures, such as the use of drop-in biofuels, Onboard Carbon Capture and Storage (OCCS), and Energy Efficiency Technologies (EETs). Delaying action while waiting for new fuels to scale will jeopardise the industry's ability to meet its interim and 2050 net-zero goals.


One of the more attractive options for reducing emissions on the table today is the use of biofuels. Biofuels are widely recognised by the maritime sector as an alternative fuel that can be deployed immediately to reduce GHG emissions because they are “drop-in”-ready, requiring minimal changes to engines, onboard fuel delivery systems and bunkering infrastructure.


Furthermore, blending biofuels with conventional fossil fuels can keep costs manageable while allowing shipowners to meet interim targets. On the regulatory front, the use of biofuels can improve CII ratings, and can reduce emissions under the EU MRV and EU ETS regimes.


However, a current gap exists, as there is currently no industry-wide assurance framework addressing concerns about the quantity, quality and GHG emissions abatement of biofuels on a well-to-wake basis.


To increase user confidence and uptake of biofuels, GCMD has traced biofuels along several supply chains, the data from which is used to establish a framework to provide quality, quantity and abatement assurance for using drop-in biofuels.


3. Data collection and sharing are crucial for measuring progress and driving innovation. How can the industry ensure secure and standardised data exchange to support decarbonisation efforts?

GCMD recently published a whitepaper around closing the data financing gap to drive the adoption of energy efficiency technologies (EETs), writes Safety4Sea. Image: Global Centre for Maritime Decarbonisation.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution, with its emphasis on the Internet-of-Things, has paved the way for the digitalisation of the maritime sector through sensors deployment, data labelling, acquisition and analytics.


Improved communications network can now enable the maritime sector to collect real-time performance and environmental data from ships. Such data collection provides greater certainty about actual fuel savings and facilitates more informed decision-making, which should result in further performance improvements.


Similarly, GCMD’s initiative focuses on scaling the adoption of EETs for fuel savings. This initiative hinges on transparent sharing of real-world validated performance data. This transparency will provide certainty on the performance of EETs, stimulating third-party investment for their broader adoption.


4. Transitioning to a net-zero future brings opportunities but also potential challenges for seafarers. How can we best prepare and support the workforce throughout this transformation?


The transition to a net-zero future in the maritime industry necessitates the development of three key skillsets by seafarers – digital literacy, understanding of new fuels and fuel delivery systems, and operational know-how of new energy efficiency technologies. 


The industry needs a structured approach to prepare and support seafarers throughout this transformation by:


  • Having industry leaders articulate the case for change by getting buy-in from the seafarers,
  • Identifying new requirements via a skills gap analysis that can be incorporated into training programmes, such as The International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers (STCW),
  • Investing in building a body of knowledge for effective and safe training of the seafarers, and
  • Sharing and institutionalising this body of knowledge with other organisations, e.g., the Society for Gas as Marine Fuel (SGMF), the Society of International Gas Tanker and Terminal Operators (SIGTTO), and local maritime academies.

To this end, GCMD has initiated discussions with Singapore Maritime Academy (SMA) to codevelop a competency framework to establish training curricula for manpower development in handling ammonia as a bunker fuel.