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Marine Delivers Magazine 2022

Decarbonization: CMC proposes a Green Shipping Corridor in the Great Lakes

Marine is already the greenest mode with all domestic vessels accounting for only 0.59% of Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions.

The Chamber of Marine Commerce (CMC) aims to explore the potential for a multi-stakeholder initiative to establish a new and innovative Canadian Green Shipping Corridor, incorporating a trial of the best of Canadian shipping. The industry could collaborate with government and research facilities to create a green shipping corridor in the Great Lakes where recent practices would be demonstrated. This would include the use of cleaner energy sources being put to the test and, as viable, used to reduce carbon.

Ships and ports will require investment to expand the use of these transition fuels, as well as develop new propulsion technologies.

“Marine is already the greenest mode with all domestic vessels accounting for only 0.59% of Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions in 2019,” Bruce Burrows, CMC’s president/CEO, shares. “Moving more cargo on inland ships offers the opportunity to significantly reduce overall emissions from the transportation sector — 68% of which is caused by trucks and cars.”

Much has already been accomplished, as Canadian ship owners have invested over $2 billion in the latest eco ships, which provide an immediate and substantial reduction in GHG emissions from the previous generation of ships. The dedicated green corridor, on a port-to-port basis, would involve all parts of the marine supply chain. This would showcase, expand and test new technologies, infrastructure and policies, while establishing benchmarks and measuring carbon-reduction progress. For example, on the ships side, this could substantiate the feasibility of cleaner energy sources, such as hydroelectric power, biofuels, and possibly hydrogen, methanol or ammonia, within the geographical and operational realities of the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence region.

“Our industry is committed to net- zero emissions by 2050, but this ambitious target cannot be achieved without government support,” Burrows emphasizes. “We’re encouraging government to become proactive, so we put funding towards lasting climate change solutions rather than reactive emergency relief.”

Move more on marine

Marine has the potential to be a critical part of a new transport policy renaissance. “It’s now time to diversify inland shipping to ease delivery issues and decrease road congestion.”

At a recent CMC decarbonization panel discussion, Serge Le Guellec, President/General Manager at ship operator Transport Desgagnés, urged governments and supply chain stakeholders to collaborate on decarbonization. “If we put just 10% of highway cargo onto the Seaway, how would it lower the overall footprint?”

Burrows notes that Great Lakes-St. Lawrence marine-related investments could be expanded. “Every ship removes about 1,000 trucks from highways, saving 800 tonnes of GHGs.”

Alternative fuels being tested

Le Guellec hopes governments provide the kind of solutions-oriented cooperation that regulators and key industry stakeholders demonstrated in establishing regulatory protocols for the use of and bunkering with LNG as a marine fuel, which Groupe Desgagnés was the first to start using on five purpose-built dual-fuel tankers in the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River.

Allister Paterson, CSL Group’s Executive Vice President/Chief Commercial Officer, emphasized maritime capabilities to reduce carbon. “Properly supported, biofuels could move us off fossil fuels in the short term.”

The biofuel consumed in CSL’s successful trials on its Great Lakes vessels in 2021 reduced lifecycle GHG emissions by 80% to 90% compared to marine diesel. “Why not create by 2025 a largely carbon-free biofuel corridor based on secure, affordable supply at main fueling points?” Paterson suggested.


Canadian ship owners have spent more than $2 billion in recent fleet renewal. Le Guellec noted that Desgagnés’ average fleet age is now 9.9 years compared to 31 years in 1988.

Gregg Ruhl, President and CEO of St. Catharines-based Algoma Central Corporation said the company, which has built 12 new Great Lakes ships, is on track to meet the goal it set years ago to reduce its dry-bulk fleet’s carbon intensity by 25% by 2025. “Every time we launch an Equinox Class laker, we drop our carbon emissions by 40% on average compared to the ship being replaced,” he said.

Canadian model needed for decarbonization policies

Yet all Canadian-flagged vessels would receive a failing grade under the proposed International Maritime Organization’s (IMO) rating systems, governing the regulation of global shipping. The Energy Efficiency Design Index (EEDI) and newer Energy Efficiency Existing Ship Design Index (EEXI) are intended to rate huge transoceanic ships.

“The IMO-chosen indices to eliminate carbon by 2050 are for the 90% of ships that carry goods across oceans, but they don’t work for us,” Paterson stated. “A ship isn’t just a ship… where it trades is fundamental to the carbon scale used.”

Paterson noted that an ocean vessel built in 2002 would garner a top A ranking while a Trillium laker built in 2014 and one of most efficient Great Lakes vessels would get a failing E grade based primarily on how it trades.

Burrows related that the initial analyses by Transport Canada and a classification society point to the indices being established on assumptions that immediately work against shortsea shipping.

The success of a green corridor in the Great Lakes, he says would depend on taking a “Made in Canada” alternative compliance approach to tracking carbon emission reductions from domestic ships that account for short sea shipping trading patterns and the unique Canadian ship designs particular to operating in the GLSLS region.

“For starters, our ships are designed like no others to fit within the Seaway’s locks and shallow passageways,” Burrows emphasizes.

Unlike ocean ships that can slow-steam to reduce emissions, the Great Lakes- St. Lawrence vessels already travel at moderate speeds. They also sail much shorter distances and typically enter and leave ports within 24 hours. “We need a Canadian baseline against which to practically measure decarbonization improvements while still allowing our business model to thrive,” Burrows says.

In addition to Transport Canada, the CMC has engaged Canada’s High Commission in London, England, because of its IMO presence. “We hope that they will appreciate the middle- class jobs that Canadian-flagged ships provide, as well as the uniqueness of our shortsea shipping model with Canadians essentially inventing self-unloading vessels,” Burrows says.

Supply, costs, social licence must be considered

A green corridor would test cleaner energy sources in icy fresh waters and frequent port stops. It would also focus on the feasibility of using these fossil fuel alternatives based on their availability, accessibility, costs, ease and social licence.

“We have to look at the market supply, costs and full lifecycle environmental impact of every alternative, and whether it makes sense for governments to incentivize its use,” Burrows says.

While biofuels might facilitate a major carbon reduction quickly, concern exists about its longer-term supply at affordable prices with keen interest already existing from other modes.

“We must look more earnestly at hydrogen, ammonia or methanol,” Burrows relates. “That requires major changes not only in ship technologies, but safety/security protocols and public acceptance.”

Ruhl emphasized that inland and coastal shipping are at constant risk of losing business to other more carbon-intensive modes if policies spike maritime costs. “Trucks are six times more carbon intensive than ships, and rail 20% more,” he warned.

While many alternatives to marine diesel oil are being presented, Le Guellec noted there’s no one viable solution to meet 2030 and 2050 decarbonization targets – the latter being just one ship-life away.

“Time is of the essence in making big decisions about which technology to support with investments,” he said. “The ability to have R&D done, along with a regulatory framework adapted to Canadian realities, and the implementation of Canadian supply chains for alternative energy sources must all be in place within 10 years.”