Eco Friendly Super Cargo Ships? We’ll See

Imagine a cargo ship a quarter mile long, 65 yards wide and capable of carrying 18,000 20-foot containers. Such a behemoth would use a lot of fuel, and spew a lot of pollution, right? Maybe not. The Triple-E ships coming to Maersk Line beginning in 2013 won’t just be the biggest container carriers in the world – according to the company they will also produce “50 percent less CO2 per container moved than the industry average on the Asia-Europe trade.” Now you see why Triple-E stands for “Economy of scale, Energy efficiency and Environmentally improved.”

In addition to beating the industry average on emissions, Maersk said the Triple-E will spew 20 percent less CO2 per container moved than its current environmental star, the Emma Maersk. And it will use 35 percent less fuel per container than the 13,100-container-capacity ships being delivered to other shipping lines in the next few years.

Triple-E container ship, Maersk Line

image via Maersk Line

Maersk said it will get 10 of the ships between 2013 and 2015, to be built by Korea’s Daewoo Shipbuilding and Marine Engineering. The company has an option to order an additional 20 vessels.

As good as all this sounds, we have to wonder: Can cargo haulers ever be considered “eco-friendly”? A 2008 study by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration found “commercial shipping releases roughly 130,000 metric tons of soot per year, or 1.7 percent of the global total – much of it near highly populated coastlines.” Trimming emissions by taking advantage of economies of scale is obviously a good thing, but with global shipping increasing 2 to 6 percent every year, according to the NOAA,  the environmental impact of shipping, in sum, seem likely to remain considerable.

Pete Danko is a writer and editor based in Portland, Oregon. His work has appeared in Breaking Energy, National Geographic's Energy Blog, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.

1 Comment

  • Reply March 7, 2011

    Luke Ramsey

    I feel that while the jury may be out in terms of actual emissions etc, am impressed that Maersk is making such a giant step in terms of changin gtheir business model to suit the environment, and hope that it triggers a cascading effect on the other lines.

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