After lengthy discussions a group of industry associations has submitted a document to the IMO’s Marine Environment Protection Committee proposing the establishment of an International Maritime Research and Development Board and Fund.  The aim of the proposal is to generate core funding from shipping companies across the world of about USD 5 billion over a 10-year period to be used to accelerate the development of commercially viable zero-carbon emission ships by the early 2030s.  This is felt to be essential if the CO2 reduction target in the IMO’s initial strategy of at least 50% reduction by 2050 is to be met.  The $5billion is to be collected through a mandatory contribution of around $2 per tonne of fuel delivered, but the paper also envisages contributions from other stakeholders, such as engine manufacturers and shipyards, potentially increasing the funding available.  The paper sets out details for governance and funding of the coordinated R&D programme, which can be put in place by 2023 via amendments to MARPOL Annex VI.

Accompanying the proposal is the result of a study carried out into the sort of projects that could be funded.  While a number of technologies are under development, none yet exists in a form or scale that could be applied to large commercial ships, especially those engaged in transoceanic voyages.   For example, Battery hybrid systems suitable for transoceanic marine vessels are not yet commercially produced, so a significant number of R&D projects would be required to accelerate the development of battery hybrid systems suitable for large transoceanic vessels; the challenges associated with hydrogen are around the safety of the fuel and the systems to store it on vessels and further engine and fuel cell development would also be required.  Ammonia has issues around its toxicity and emissions, whether used in reciprocating internal combustion engines or solid oxide fuel cells.  Considerable work is required to develop these technologies for maritime application.   It is foreseen that the IMRB fund could support the development of approximately 200 technology and vessel sector combinations, which would be expected to reduce to approximately 20 on vessel demonstration projects as the technologies develop into the systems seen as the most suitable solutions. 

It should be noted that this proposal is not designed as a Market Based Measure.  It is an attempt to encourage the development of systems that will allow the industry to decarbonise.  Only once alternative fuels and technologies are commercially available will there be any value in discussing ways to encourage their uptake, although it will still be necessary to take into account the views of developing countries who have genuine concerns that any levy pitched at too high a level could have a detrimental impact on their trade.