International trade by sea has long been a key part of the world economy and approximately 90% of traded commodities are reliant on shipping. Once wind-propelled in the days of sail, the current generation of ships now heavily rely on fossil fuels. Fossil fuel propulsion contributes to global warming with carbon emissions approximating 940 MtCO2e per year and also has health implications for communities surrounding ports through the release of air pollutants. The environmental impact of fossil-fuelled engines is further compounded by their use in port infrastructure, docking equipment, and the impact of biofouling on fuel efficiency.
The industrial revolution brought steam-propelled ships. These out-competed sailing ships and the last wind-powered commercial ship, Pamir, made her final voyage in 1957, sinking off the Azores with 6 survivors. The primary fuel for steam ships was coal, a notoriously unclean fuel. Coal is mostly composed of carbon, and its combustion produces high levels of carbon oxides, nitrous oxides (NOx), sulphur oxides (SOx) and particulate matter.
Once crude oil extraction became viable this became the source of fuel for ships, remaining predominant to this day. The shipping industry relies on an assortment of fuels, such as Heavy Fuel Oil (HFO), Low Sulfur Fuel Oil, Marine Gas Oil, Marine Diesel Oil and Liquid Natural Gas (LNG).
These are needed for dock-side cargo handling, on-ship electricity generation and ship propulsion. Of these fuels, HFO is the primary fuel used within the shipping industry. Emissions of particulate matter from HFO combustion are small enough to pass through the alveoli of the lungs, leading to asthma, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), heart disease, stroke, and lung cancers.
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