future of shipping

What does the future hold for shipping?

There is a sense of urgency around decarbonization in the maritime industry. This year, the International Energy Agency announced that average annual improvements of +4% up to 2030 are needed to set shipping on the right course for net zero emissions[1]. To succeed, the sector requires more than just developments in fuels and technology. It needs a fundamental change in mindset.

That shift starts with the adoption of a holistic approach to the maritime business – one in which the ocean is a key stakeholder, and nurturing the health of oceans is understood as intrinsic to human progress. What change might this bring about in the coming decades? We take a virtual tour of the future of maritime.

Projecting ourselves into the future of the maritime industry, we find technology that is either established or emerging today. In this future, technologies are scaled up and streamlined into a cohesive ecosystem that shapes a better maritime industry for both people and the planet.

shaping a better maritime world interactive map

What’s on the horizon for shipping?

Picture standing on the shore, looking out to sea, a few decades from now. Travelling not far from the coast are two state-of-the-art bulk carriers; one powered by a green ammonia fuel cell system, the other incorporating wind-assisted propulsion technology. Both ships are assisted by complex digital guidance systems that compile and analyze onboard and environmental data to find the most fuel-efficient routes. Conditions for the crew are improved both in comfort and safety, thanks to improvements in living quarters, ventilation and air-conditioning.

Gazing further out toward the horizon, we see a vast and luxurious mega cruise ship. In many ways, it is a familiar sight, but this vessel features several key differences from its counterparts today. Thanks to its combination of LNG as fuel and onboard carbon capture technology, this ship has a significantly reduced footprint, despite its increased size. Onboard, operators have implemented zero-plastic and waste reuse programs to further cut the vessel’s environmental impact.

Alongside the cruise ship, out in the deep sea, sail next-generation cargo ships that may become a feature of global freight. Ship have grown steadily since the 1960s to answer to economies of scale and fuel efficiency, with some container ships now boasting a 24,000 TEU capacity[2]. When at port, these giant ships systematically connect to electric shore power, lowering emissions in port.

This vision of the future will be achieved by retrofitting existing tonnage and building new ships. Retrofitting and conversions to maintain compliance for in service ships may be achieved with less material waste and fewer emissions thanks to additive manufacturing. Already used across industries, this means of production can be used for anything from small machinery parts to giant ship propellers.

Predictions for offshore energy production

In this not-so-distant future, marine renewable energy will form a more significant part of the global energy mix.

In this vision, floating wind farms, wave and tidal power arrays provide a large proportion of the onshore grid’s renewable energy. The immense power of the tides and the wind are harnessed to create green energy. Design improvements mean that tomorrow’s tidal and wind turbines are able to produce far greater energy yields than their today’s equivalents. Storage solutions are an important part of this equation. They help combat the issue of fluctuations in wind power versus the demands of the grid. In floating offshore windfarms, a process of electrolysis uses sea water to turn excess energy into hydrogen. The hydrogen is then stored on the sea bed to be converted back to power during periods of low wind.  

As renewable green energy markets emerge and scale up, carbon-intensive industries will continue to offset their emissions through carbon capture, utilization and storage (CCUS), supported by the maritime resources. Next-generation CO2 carriers will leverage carbon storage technology to transport liquefied CO2 to its drop-off point on- or offshore, where it is reused, or trapped in disused oil and gas wells repurposed for permanent CO2 injection.

Matthieu de Tugny
de Tugny


Bureau Veritas Marine & Offshore

The maritime industry is going through profound changes, and class societies must adapt to support it. Our role now reaches far beyond protecting life at sea, ships and assets, to include the ocean itself. We must take a full and active part in preserving our blue planet for future generations.

The outlook for future generations of the ocean ecosystem

Under the sea, marine life of all sizes will enjoy better living conditions. Thanks to improvements in ship design, from propellers to engines, the underwater radiated noise (URN) vessels produce will be greatly reduced, with lower impact on the mating, hunting and navigating habits of wildlife. In an additional step to protect animal wellbeing, human populations will take a systematic approach to cleaning the oceans of plastic waste. The seas of the future are patrolled by small, safe electric vessels, which gobble up plastics and other waste to be sorted and recycled or disposed of responsibly.

Thanks to rig-to-reef programs, the vestiges of human presence, such as disused oil and gas platforms will remain as homes for corals and fish to colonize. Under these programs, any hazardous materials are removed, and the structure is left to nature. A single eight-legged platform base can thus transform into an artificial reef supporting up to 14,000 fish[3].

The impact of human consumption on marine life will also be reduced through the expansion of sustainable fish farms, which can provide the majority of fish for food. This would relieve pressure on wild stocks and allowing numbers to recover. In bottom-based geodesic domes, fish will be bred, fed, looked after, and harvested by robotic shepherd submarines.

As the marine ecosystem is replenished, a new generation of eco-tourists may emerge, boarding electric submarines to witness the wonders of a reef while limiting the impact of their presence.

Class: helping make the vision a reality

Work to turn this greener and fairer vision of the future into a reality is already beginning. Bureau Veritas Marine & Offshore is harnessing all its expertise to guide clients into the future, with a variety of rules and notations.

Our rules and notations for sustainable shipping

It may sound futuristic or utopian, but many of these changes are already underway, and others nearing breakthrough. In this brave new world, classification takes on a much broader role. While class continues to serves in de-risking assets, safeguarding lives, and supporting innovation, it embraces a new role as a guardian of social and environmental needs, and of that most key stakeholder - the ocean itself.

Do you want to dive deeper into our vision of the future, and to learn how we can shape a better maritime world?

[1] https://www.iea.org/fuels-and-technologies/international-shipping
[2] Allianz Global Corporate & Specialty Safety and Shipping Review 2021
[3] https://www.bsee.gov/what-we-do/environmental-compliance/environmental-programs/rigs-to-reefs