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Navigating to net zero: reducing emissions in shipping

Release date:
1 June 2022
From bubbles to biofuels, bp is trialling a raft of new technologies and fuel types to help the shipping industry set sail towards a lower carbon future
🕒 5 min read | 📖 Feature| 💡 Why it matters
British Partner, LNG tanker

Every day, thousands of ships crisscross the globe, transporting around 90% of the world’s traded goods. But it comes at a cost. The shipping industry accounts for around 3% of global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.

So, the race is on to find ways to decarbonize.

That’s where bp comes in. For more than a century, we’ve shipped our energy products around the world. And at any one time, about 300 vessels are on the water for bp. It’s this combination of experience and expertise that’s being put to work finding some ways to help the shipping industry navigate a course to net zero.

Six ways to help decarbonize shipping

1. Performance management systems

Data on the ship’s performance is processed to generate technical insights and performance metrics in real time. Teams use these analytics to identify corrective actions, including to improve energy efficiency.

2. Drop cameras

Cameras mounted on magnetic wheels can be lowered down the side of the ship to assess the condition of the hull.

3. Biofuels

Fuels produced from biomass feedstocks, which are blended with traditional marine fuels to lower the overall lifecycle emissions.

4. Advanced sensors

Sensors onboard collect real-time and high-frequency data related to the ship’s fuel consumption and control systems, which is then sent to the performance management system.

5. Proactive cleaning

Cleaning during the voyage removes microorganisms clinging to the ship’s hull to reduce drag and the energy required to propel the vessel.

6. Advanced anti-fouling coatings

Specialist coatings applied in dry-dock that prevent microorganisms attaching to the hull and causing drag.

Energy-saving systems – what impact can they have? 

A giant lick of paint

Advanced anti-fouling coatings

What is it? 

Barnacles, seaweed and other microorganisms cling to a ship’s hull, which the ship has to ‘drag’ through the water. This drag means more energy is needed to propel the vessel and keep it on schedule. More energy means more fuel and that means higher carbon emissions. But applying specialist coatings to the ship’s hull – a lot like applying paint to a wall – prevents giving these species a free ride.

What is bp doing? 

We’re applying these advanced coatings as part of our fleet efficiency programme. In November 2021, the underwater hull of our product tanker, British Sailor, received a full blasting to return it to its original, smooth condition. We followed that with layers of advanced-performance anti-fouling hull coatings.


The entire Mariner Class series of vessels (with, so far, five out of six completed) is being subject to the same treatment, and we are already seeing positive results only a few months into service.

The hull of the British Sailor is blasted to reveal the bare steel while in dry-dock in Singapore in November 2021

Anti-fouling coatings were then applied before the ship was given a fresh lick of paint

With all 9,000 square metres of underwater surface area (almost the size of two football fields) coated and repainted, the ship was ready to return to service on the seas.

Ship shape and good as new

Brush strokes

Proactive cleaning

What is it?

Anti-fouling coatings can only do so much, particularly if the vessel is operating in warm waters or is stationary for an extended period of time. Proactive cleaning removes biofouling growth and reduces the hull resistance, ensuring that minimal propulsion fuel is required which, in turn, can reduce carbon emissions by 5-6%.

What is bp doing?

We’ve commenced an in-transit cleaning of hulls (ITCH) proof of concept trial that uses the natural motion of the vessel as it travels through water to power a brush that goes up and down the side of the hull. It’s a bit like attaching a giant windscreen wiper to a piece of string, only with clever control programming to operate it.  

Air bubble lubrication system

What is it?

Another clever technology designed to reduce drag, this system creates a continuous layer of air bubbles that passes under a ship’s hull to help reduce the amount of energy needed to propel the vessel forward by reducing the resistance between the ship and the seawater. With the right conditions, the technology has the potential to reduce the amount of fuel a ship requires and lower CO2 emissions by around 4-6%.1

What is bp doing?

These systems are installed on three liquefied natural gas (LNG) carriers that are on long-term time charter to bp. We’re closely monitoring their performance and are considering the technology for our bp-operated LNG carriers.  

Air bubble lubrication system

1. Compressors pump air into outlets at the bottom of the ship.

2. A uniform carpet of air bubbles forms beneath the hull.

3. Automation system regulates the rate of air flow depending on draught and speed.

4. The bubbles ‘lubricate’ the hull, reducing the resistance between the hull and the surrounding water, improving the fuel efficiency of the vessel.

💡 Why it matters

Shipping accounts for around 3% of the world’s emissions. To meet the Paris Agreement goal, the industry can help by taking significant steps to tackle these emissions. bp’s ambition is to become a net zero company by 2050 or sooner and to help the world – including the shipping industry – get to net zero too.


bp’s senior vice president of shipping, Lambros Klaoudatos, says: “The challenge for decarbonizing the shipping industry is immense, but I’m optimistic that innovation within the industry will mean we thrive in a lower carbon world. I have every confidence that the steps we’re taking, collaborating with likeminded partners will see shipping deliver on net zero goals.”

Advanced sensors and performance management systems

What are they? 

To manage a ship’s energy efficiency, advanced sensors are used to collect and automatically send ashore accurate and real-time information on the vessel’s fuel consumption and control systems for processing through a performance management system. Such technical insights and performance metrics can help the crew onboard or onshore to decide, for example, when to conduct hull cleaning to improve the ship’s fuel consumption and energy efficiency.


Drop-cameras mounted on magnetic wheels can be lowered down the side of a ship to assess the condition of the underwater area of the hull while the vessel is in port and at anchorage.  

What is bp doing?

We have installed equipment onboard seven bp Shipping-operated vessels to enable the automatic logging of key data, approximately every 15 seconds, including a suite of advanced sensors and data collection equipment on the British Sailor. Drop-cameras and vessel performance management systems have also been deployed to all six Mariner Class product tankers and our six Partnership Class LNG carriers.

The vertical portside of the hull without any cleaning

Drop cameras in action

Drop cameras were used to monitor biofouling on the British Captain. The first image shows a still from video footage of the vertical portside of the ship’s hull, which has had no intervention for four months and clearly shows a heavy layer of slime.


The second images shows the vertical starboard two weeks after a trial of the in-transit cleaning of hull technology, which shows the hull in an overall clean condition. 

The starboard hull following in-transit cleaning of hulls testing

Alternative fuels

From chips to ships


What are they?

Turning biomass feedstocks produced from vegetable oils, animal fats, waste cooking oils and other organic wastes and residues into biofuels and blending this with traditional marine fuels. This is known as a ‘drop-in’ fuel when used in conventional engines without the need to carry out any modifications and can help to reduce the lifecycle CO2 emissions of the fuel. Trials are carried out to test the impact biofuel blends have on vessel performance and reliability, as well as on emissions.2  

What is bp doing?

We have been trialling biofuels made from a number of sustainable sources. We trialled two biofuels produced from used cooking oil blended with very low-sulphur fuel oil on British Captain. This trial confirmed that their use had no adverse impacts on equipment or machinery onboard, while also delivering GHG emissions reductions from the voyage on a lifecycle basis.

And more recently, we trialled a biofuel blend produced from brown grease – waste oils commonly retrieved from sewage systems. The trial on the British Sailor during a voyage from Singapore to Australia and New Zealand showed that the biofuel was able to lower GHG emissions by 328 tonnes of CO2 equivalent on a lifecycle assessment basis.


Other lower carbon fuels

What are they?

We see hydrogen-derived fuels, such as ammonia, methanol, and compressed and liquefied hydrogen, playing an important role in the decarbonization journey. Each of these alternatives has advantages and disadvantages compared to conventional fuels, which means the pathway to net zero is incredibly complex. 


What is bp doing?

bp is working to establish supplies of some of these lower carbon alternatives and hopes to make them available to marine customers as demand develops. We are exploring opportunities to supply bio-methanol and e-methanol derived from hydrogen, and are evaluating pilot projects that are looking to establish ammonia as a marine fuel in some of the busiest ports in the world by 2025.


Castrol has a range of lubricants suitable for use in marine engines running on many of these alternative fuels and has proven performance with biofuels. As compatible engines are brought to market and as demand for these fuels grow, we will look to provide the fuel and products our customers need to help them reach their decarbonization goals.  


Working in partnership

We are joining forces with industry-leading partners to collaborate on the complex challenge of helping to decarbonize shipping – including with NYK Line and the Mærsk Mc-Kinney Møller Center for Zero Carbon Shipping, the Global Maritime Forum and the Blue Sky Maritime Coalition. We have committed $7.4 million to the Global Centre for Maritime Decarbonization to support decarbonization research, pilots and trials.


1Source: Marine Insight
2Source: bp.com

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