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It takes 5 million barrels of fuel per day to move commercial ships across the routes shown on this map. Added up over the course of a year, international shipping emits more than 800 million tons of carbon dioxide or its equivalent in other greenhouse gases—11 percent of the total emissions from the transportation sector.

More than 80 percent of global trade, by volume, floats its way from place to place. 90,000 commercial vessels—tankers, bulk dry carriers, and container ships—make the movement of goods possible, transporting more than 10 billion tons of cargo in 2015.

Shipping produces 3 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. Forecasts predict they could be 50 percent to 250 percent higher in 2050. Because of huge shipping volumes, increasing shipping efficiency can have a sizable impact.

Efficiency begins with ship design and onboard technology. Fuel-saving innovations include:

  • flat extensions called ducktails at the rear to lower resistance; and
  • compressed air pumped through the bottom of the hull to create a layer of bubbles that “lubricate” passage through the water.

Maintenance and operations also are vital for marine fuel efficiency. Techniques like removing debris from propellers, smoothing the surface of a hull with a sharkskin-like coating, and “slow steaming”—reducing a ship’s operating speed—all lower fuel consumption.

Technical summaries for each solution will be available May 1, 2017.

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