Alternative Fuel for Ships

Ships are responsible for more than 18 percent of the Earth’s greenhouse gas emissions. Current combustion technology and the fuels used to power them could prevent the success of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) put forth by the United Nations due to their part in causing increases in Sulfur, Nitrous Oxides, and Carbon Dioxide levels in the atmosphere. This not only damages air quality but also damages the water quality and marine life. The International Maritime Organization is looking for alternative fueling options to help achieve the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.

Propulsion methods for ships have changed rarely throughout history, but these changes have been dramatic. The earliest method of propulsion was using wind as a medium until the late 18th and early 19th centuries when steamships began to be used. Beginning in the 1930s, Heavy Fuel Oil (HFO) made a debut as the primary marine fuel (Anish, 2021). The problem with HFO, as with conventional fossil fuels, is high carbon emissions, with added sulfur emissions (Anish, 2021).

The International Maritime Organization, IMO, is an agency within the United Nations that deals with a variety of questions that surface within the maritime industry. The Marine Environment Protection Committee, or MEPC, is a group of states within the IMO working on maritime security and prevention of pollution (“International Standards to Reduce Emissions”). A treaty called “MARPOL,” adapted by the International Convention on the Prevention of Pollution from Ships, addresses engine and vessel requirements regarding air pollution (“International Standards to Reduce Emissions”). The first round of MARPOL Annex VI regulations were adopted in 1997 and implemented in 2005. These set the standards for maximum sulfur concentrations and oxides of nitrogen emission rates (“International Standards to Reduce Emissions”). Amended in 2008, Annex VI set more stringent fuel sulfur and nitrogen emission standards, especially for vessels in Emission Control Areas (“International Standards to Reduce Emissions”). Under the most recent revision MARPOL Annex VI, the global sulfur limit will be reduced from 3.50% to 0.50%, effective from 1 January 2020 (“International Standards to Reduce Emissions”).

International standards that have been put into place have been effective in motivating shipping companies to install hardware onto ships that reduce their environmental impact, or buying ships that utilize alternative propulsion methods like liquified natural gas. Unfortunately, the world’s dependence on shipping requires all fuel sources to be vetted by what academia calls the “fuel triangle” (“Alternative Marine Fuels”). The fuel triangle takes into consideration a fuel’s energy density, availability, and Greenhouse Gas neutrality (“Alternative Marine Fuels”). A perfect fuel would have a high energy density, neutral greenhouse emissions, and be readily available. Engine manufacturers, producers, and ports form a type of inverted triangle within the fuel triangle as they must work in tandem to develop/establish a worthy replacement for HFO (“Alternative Marine Fuels”). Your task is to develop a global framework for moving shipping companies to more sustainable fuel sources and technology.


  • Has your country taken any action against the use of fossil fuels?
  • How has your country worked to decrease the use of fossil fuels in the shipping industry?
  • What are some actions that can be taken to ensure that alternative fuels can be comparable to the cost of fossil fuels?
  • How can small actions be taken to ensure a decrease in pollution levels by 2030?
  • What are other alternative options? Does your country have any resources that they could use to provide safer fuel options?
  • How could your country help (or seek help) from member states to ensure safer options?



“Alternative Marine Fuels –.” Maritime Industry Decarbonisation Council ,,and%20PM%20(Particulate%20Matter). Accessed 5 May 2021.

Anish. “Marine Heavy Fuel Oil (HFO) For Ships – Properties, Challenges, and Treatment Methods.” Marine Insight , 1 Jan. 2021,  

“At Last, the Shipping Industry Begins Cleaning Up Its Dirty Fuels.” Yale E360 , 28 June 2018, fuels.

“International Standards to Reduce Emissions from Marine Diesel Engines and Their Fuels.” US EPA , 19 Nov. 2020,

“Prevention of Air Pollution from Ships.”> International Maritime Organization , 2019, fuels