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The University of Southampton
Turing @ Southampton

Reducing the carbon footprint of the shipping industry

Published: 7 October 2022
Image by timelab-pro on Unsplash

The oceans are the superhighways of international trade, with about 80% of global goods carried by sea. But this comes at an environmental cost: the shipping industry emits around a billion tonnes of greenhouse gases – mostly CO2 – per year. This is about 3% of the global greenhouse gas emissions caused by human activity.

Shipping companies are looking for ways to reduce their carbon footprint, and one potential solution lies in optimising ships’ routes so that they burn less fuel. Associate Professor in the Maritime Engineering group at the University of Southampton and Group Lead for Marine and Maritime in the Data-Centric Engineering Programme at Turing, Adam Sobey , leads a team that has developed voyage optimisation software that plans the most fuel-efficient route through the waves. This is a collaboration with UK company Theyr, which specialises in supplying high-resolution weather and ocean data to the maritime sector.

Theyr’s data feeds directly into the software, which uses what is known as a ‘genetic algorithm’, inspired by Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection. The algorithm creates a population of possible routes , and then mathematically combines (‘mates’) pairs of the most successful routes (i.e. those which arrive on time while using lower amounts of fuel and avoiding poor weather/ ocean conditions). By repeating this process over multiple ‘generations’ of routes, the algorithm quickly arrives at an optimal solution. The software is now being used by Euronav, a crude oil tanker company that has a fleet of 75 ships, and the researchers estimate that it will reduce fuel use by around 5% compared with other routing algorithms. Large vessels typically burn 50-75 tonnes of fuel per day, so this could save as much as £2,000 per day per vessel. And with this, of course, comes a significant environmental benefit: reduced fuel means reduced emissions.

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