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The University of Southampton

Southampton innovations for decarbonised shipping integral to proposed Zero-carbon Coastal Highway

Published: 28 October 2020
Autonomous ship sketch

Leading maritime experts have set out their vision for a fleet of zero carbon coastal ships to transport goods around the UK via its ports by 2030.

Moving goods by water is well established as the most energy efficient approach, and the ambitious proposal would shift transport from the UK’s already congested road and rail networks onto the water.

The Zero-carbon Coastal Highway concept was developed by a core team of the Maritime Research and Innovation UK (MarRI-UK) including experts from the University of Southampton, Shell Shipping & Maritime and the BMT Group.

MarRI-UK has submitted a Comprehensive Spending Review bid seeking £530 million of Government co-investment for the programme that could enable the UK to become a leading innovator in the global clean maritime sector.

The organisation estimates that the transition would add £1.8 billion additional revenue to the UK, create 39,000 extra jobs and reduce land-based CO2 emissions by between 30 and 40 per cent.

Professor Stephen Turnock, Head of Civil, Maritime and Environmental Engineering at the University of Southampton, says: “Examining the transport logistics system as whole will allow many of our smaller ports to be transformed, sustaining their localities and reducing the growing pressures on our road and rail bottlenecks. It will revolutionise the approach to vessel traffic management and greatly ease the development of maritime autonomous systems development.

“Front and centre to this proposal is the need to decarbonise shipping. The development of a flagship fleet of zero carbon ships will allow us to take the bold step needed to replace fossil fuels with an energy source that has pollutant free emissions will blaze a trail to the industry worldwide showing how it can be done.”

The University of Southampton’s efforts towards decarbonisation in the maritime sector are spearheaded by the Southampton Marine and Maritime Institute (SMMI), a unique, internationally recognised multi-disciplinary centre of excellence for research, innovation and education.

Professor Damon Teagle, Director of the SMMI, says: “Moving the distribution of goods from congested road and rail to coastal shipping in an efficient and clean manner provides a number of exiting research challenges, from the increased use on new power systems, likely involving hydrogen, together with increased electrification, 5G communications, robotics and high levels of autonomy of both ships and the port-side infrastructure.

“New styles of vessels and coastal gateways will need to be designed and developed, and new regulations will be needed to ensure safety. But the prizes are major reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, lower pollution and a less congested and healthier society.”

The SMMI was instrumental in establishing the Southampton Centre for Maritime Futures in partnership with Shell Shipping and Maritime, which includes a key theme on decarbonising shipping.

Professor Dominic Hudson, Shell Professor of Ship Safety and Efficiency at Southampton, says: “Working together with the BMT Group to develop this proposal under the auspices of MarRI-UK is an exciting demonstration of what is possible in this area and just one example of the work the Centre is doing to reduce shipping emissions.”

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