World’s biggest ship on course for energy efficiency savings

Sensemaking / World’s biggest ship on course for energy efficiency savings

Maersk and other SSI members lead on energy efficient engines and shipyard recycling.

By Duncan Jefferies / 07 Jan 2014

Stand the 400m long Majestic Maersk on its stern and it would tower over the roof of the Empire State Building (381m). As the world’s largest container ship, it can transport roughly 18,000 twenty-foot containers, or around 182 million iPads – one each for every person in Brazil. A single link from its anchor chain weighs 500 pounds.

It’s the first of a new generation of Triple-E class ships, a name which is derived from the class’s three design principles – economy of scale, energy efficient and environmentally improved. Maersk has ordered 20 of these vessels, costing $190 million each. Fuel-saving and emission-reductions features account for around $30 million of the price tag, though the Majestic still gets through 21,200 gallons of fuel per day.

To put this into perspective, a Boeing 747 burns approximately 36,000 gallons of fuel over the course of a 10-hour flight, while the typical car gets about 25 miles per gallon. So despite having a large C02 footprint (3-4% of global emissions), shipping is still the least environmentally damaging way of transporting freight, emitting 3g of C02 for every ton of goods transported 1km. Rail, by comparison, emits 18g of C02 per ton.

The cost of installing fuel-saving technologies will be dwarfed by savings made over the ship’s lifetime; using the Clean Cargo Working Group’s methodology, which measures grams of C02 emitted per container moved 1km, it is the most energyefficient container vessel ever made. It uses 20% less fuel than the previous holder of the title, the Emma Maersk, and 50% less than the industry average on the Asia-Europe trade lane.

The ship’s U-shaped hull creates more space in the cargo holds for containers, while an unusual ‘twin-skeg’ design – two engines, each driving a separate propeller – allows the ship to run more efficiently at slower speeds, using fewer propeller revolutions and distributing pressure better than the Emma Maersk’s single engine system.

A waste heat recovery system has also been included in the Majestic to reuse energy from the engines’ exhaust gas for extra propulsion, reducing fuel consumption by around 9%. The remainder of the Triple-E vessels that Maersk has purchased should feature even more efficiencies, says Signe Bruun Jensen, Global Advisor, Maersk Line Environment & CSR, as “the pace of innovation is so rapid”.

All the materials used to build the ships have been documented in a ‘cradle-to-cradle passport’ to ensure they are reused or disposed of in an environmentally friendly way. In 2012, The China Navigation Company voluntarily adopted a policy to send vessels only to yards with verified accreditation issued by a reputable, independent third party against all industry standards, as well as preferably being an ‘A’ member of the International Ship Recycling Association – going beyond legislative requirements.

As Simon Bennett, General Manager for Sustainable Development, CNCo, says, the harm caused by ship recycling yards with poor health, safety and environmental standards “can be mitigated by a commitment from shipowners to not support those yards commercially”.

It’s this kind of innovation that the Sustainable Shipping Initiative (SSI), a cross-industry coalition formerly facilitated by Forum for the Future and WWF, now a standalone charity, seeks to support. Ship-owners, charterers, operators, shipbuilders, engineers, marine financiers and supply chain managers recently met in Singapore for the launch of its ‘Case for More Action’ report, which details the practical tools the shipping industry can use to reduce its environmental footprint.

Helle Gleie, leader of the SSI, remarks, “From new vessel types, and new financial models to propulsion through kites and bacteria-based fuels, it is clear that the maritime sector is driving innovation. Our new tools and our recommendations for future action will accelerate this even further.” – Duncan Jefferies

For more information on the SSI visit or email

Photo credit: Maersk

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