Denmark’s Maersk is partnering with customers, deploying big data and upgrading its fleet to make shipping more sustainable

Danish shipping company Maersk Line has cut emissions per container moved by 42% since 2007, and is aiming for 60% by 2020. It has cut fuel consumption through a basket of measures: choosing optimal routes given wind and currents; slower speeds; and cargo planning.

“An important aspect of this optimisation is how we use big data to guide our decisions,” explains Mads Stensen, senior global adviser on sustainability. Maersk Line’s Global Voyage Centre in Mumbai monitors fleet performance 24 hours a day, which means better fleet management, delivery times, onboard issue resolution and energy efficiency.

It will monitor the impact of a $125m energy efficiency retrofit on 12 Maersk vessels that use the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. The ports are contributing $1m to a real-time tracking system, which will record emissions from the ships at sea and in berth. Fuel consumption data will be collected alongside variables such as weather, and sent via satellite to the performance centre, where it will be used to boost operational efficiency.
The fuel consumption of each ship is expected to decrease by 10%, which will cut CO2 emissions, alongside polluting sulphur and nitrous oxides. At the project launch last November, it was described as “the equivalent of strapping a Fitbit onto a large container ship”.

The wider fleet is undergoing a $1bn upgrade, while Maersk’s newest vessels, 20 Triple Es, are billed as the largest most energy-efficient ships on routes between Europe and Asia. They carry 2,500 containers more than their predecessors, but Maersk claims emissions per container are 35% lower than its competitors. Hot exhaust gas is used to produce extra energy to propel the Triple Es, which are designed to sail at slower speeds, while lower propeller revolutions and larger propellers mean less power is needed to move them.

The Triple E is also designed for recycling. Its “cradle to cradle passport” lists and describes all the materials used in its manufacture, and their locations, so they can be separated. Maersk says it should be possible to recycle most of the materials to make new ships, while safely disposing of anything else.

Triple Es are designed to be recycled at the end of their lives (credit: Maersk)


But the company can only make so much progress alone, so it began asking how it could enable customers to use their market power to drive the right behaviours, says Stensen. He adds: “Companies need to integrate sustainability into their procurement process, or else [it’s] all just empty words.”

Maersk approached some of its 50,000 customers – amongst them Huawei, BMW, Electrolux, Tetra Pak, and Philips – and agreed a series of emission- cutting compacts. With each, Maersk looks at how targets can be achieved by shipping cargo on more efficient vessels or routes. It argues that transparency in reporting shows customers the way to make informed choices in their own supply chains.

With some customers, it might have an additional tailor-made project: Maersk is about to set up a pilot in South America, where it handles a customer’s inland transportation of cargo, to improve the safety and employment conditions for the transportation providers’ workforce.

Maersk has its eye on technologies across the board, from solar to hydrogen and biofuels, but John Kornerup Bang, head of strategy and shared value projects in Maersk, emphasises the need for regulation to incentivise investment. “All [new technologies] require innovation and investment – all are on the horizon,” he says. “Nobody really knows what are the right combinations of solutions – but we know we need to find out.”


This article is part of our sustainable transport briefing. See also:

Delivering the Paris Agreement

DPDHL goes electric to power zero carbon drive

Search for sustainable biofuels beset by turbulence

Boxing clever to cut emissions

KLM asks customers to fill biofuels funding gap

Heathrow carbon-neutral plan still blue-skies thinking


emissions  Maersk  cargo  shipping  transport  climate  logistics 

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