Promoting Sustainability: Singapore’s Maritime ESG Efforts

Singapore seems to be constantly pushing the frontier in Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) initiatives in the maritime industry. On 21 March, Singapore and Norway signed a memorandum of understanding on maritime decarbonization with the International Maritime Organization. It entailed partnership in helping developing countries reduce their emissions from ships and in ports.

Allyson Browne, Climate Campaign Manager for Ports, Pacific Environment, lauded the nation’s mandate for all new harbor crafts operating in her port waters to be fully electric, be capable of using B100 biofuel, or be compatible with net-zero fuels such as hydrogen by 2030. “We applaud Singapore’s commitment to move towards 100 percent zero-emission ports and ships through its 2050 net zero emissions targets,” said Browne.

However, is the electrification of harbor crafts actually helping to contribute to the sustainability of the maritime industry, and are dollars well spent in the right areas? Or are constant sustainability efforts overshadowing the changing needs of the industry to elevate competitive business edge?

Professor Chan Siew Hwa, who lectures at the School of Mechanical & Aerospace Engineering at Nanyang Technological University (NTU), said “electrification of vessels is certainly a trend.” He is also the Co-Director of the Energy Research Institute @ NTU. However, he added that it is imperative for sustainability. “It is inevitable that we have to pay for the high cost to adopt low-carbon technologies that would allow us to achieve a more sustainable future. Current technologies are, in fact, not “cheap” as the environmental cost is not taken into consideration.”

“If we were to capture the CO2 from the atmosphere, the energy needed would be easily more than 2000 kWh per ton of CO2.”

Captain Tan Kim Hock, Program Director of Maritime Studies at the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering, NTU, agreed that the electrification is “definitely justifiable and very practical”. He said that the emissions from electricity and fuel hold very significant differences, and climate change is very prevalent.

Captain Tan then explained that the Ministry of Transport is starting with smaller vessels because it is more manageable. “It has to start somewhere,” he said. “To achieve big containership powers of megawatts per hour is not something that you can have (with present) infrastructure (because it is hard) to convert within such a short span of time.”

Dr Yuen Kum Fai, Assistant Professor and Program Director of MSc (Maritime Studies) at the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering, NTU, took a long-term view and said, “if we added up all these, the overall savings on energy consumption used will be sizable.”

“I think it is a very justified move on the part of the government because this is not just for the next ten years but for generations to come. If you don’t do something, it will be a really catastrophic situation,” he elaborated.

However, there is a conversation surrounding whether the use of hydrogen or ammonia is more efficient and effective in pursuing sustainability in the shipping industry. To this, Professor Chan said, “traditionally, we use hydrocarbons for almost all our energy needs.” He explained that “hydrocarbons contain mainly hydrogen and carbon atoms, and when hydrogen and carbon in the fuels are fully oxidized to release their energy, they produce water and CO2.”

“Since it is known that CO2 is a kind of greenhouse gas causing climate change, removing the carbon in the hydrocarbon fuels will leave us with hydrogen.”

On the other hand, Professor Chan said that ammonia is made from hydrogen and nitrogen, and the latter is directly from the atmosphere. Hence, ammonia can be seen as a hydrogen carrier. “Liquefied hydrogen has less energy than liquefied ammonia for a given volume, hence liquid ammonia has the advantage of higher volumetric energy density than liquid hydrogen.”

But both hydrogen and ammonia are not necessarily the sole fuels for the maritime sector. He added that “other candidates such as methanol, biofuel and synthetic liquefied methane are also the options.

Captain Tan agreed that when it came to decarbonization for zero-emission, there are three very workable options: methanol, ammonia and hydrogen. He said that although hydrogen is still a new option among the three, it is “the most desired one simply because H2 is the one that really doesn’t have any emission indices.”

Despite Captain Tan’s positive view on this, he cited three main problems. Firstly, there is a need to identify sources of hydrogen that are very portable and have cheap production costs. But these may pose safety issues due to the chemical properties of hydrogen itself. “Therefore, to have that on the ship, there are some safety features which we need to think about, and that is a challenge.”

The third issue would be the storage on ships. He said there is “a need to talk about retrofit technology” as it is a very specific design, or the industry can start from the next generation of ships.

“The moment hydrogen is proven workable, it’s a good option,” said Captain Tan.

With all these proactive steps to combat climate change, how has the maritime industry fared in its green efforts compared to other industries in Singapore then?

Captain Tan felt the maritime sector is ahead because “the industry (has) a very strong ecosystem in Singapore involving stakeholders and regulators.” He cited the Poseidon Principles linking the financial sector as an example of how maritime sustainability initiatives have really spurred ahead.

The Poseidon Principles are the world’s first sector-specific, self-governing climate alignment agreement amongst financial institutions. The grid outlines a global framework for assessing and disclosing the climate alignment of ship finance portfolios.

Another advantage that Professor Chan identified was how “maritime is the gateway for countries such as Singapore to adopt the low-carbon fuels as we rely on fuel import.”

“The most difficult sector for decarbonization would be those related to off-the-grid applications such as aviation and shipping industries, and to a lesser extent the heavy-duty vehicles on the road.”

Dr Yuen believed industry players and shipping businesses understood the business sense and competitive edge if they capitalized on ESG efforts. “We (used to) go green because of regulations, but now I think the shipping industry is doing more than required (because it) develops a much cleaner image (which) attracts manufacturers that are also going green at the same time.”


Singapore’s efforts in maritime sustainability and addressing sustainability issues in the shipping industry have been commendable. Through initiatives like electrification, exploring fuel alternatives, and strong collaborations, the nation is working towards a more sustainable future for the maritime sector.

Discover the latest updates, insightful perspectives, and valuable resources on sustainability in the maritime industry at Maritime Fairtrade today. As an independent news platform, we delve into a wide array of topics relevant to the industry, including regulatory changes, market trends, digital transformation, and environmental concerns. Stay informed about the maritime trade in Asia with our maritime guide in Singapore today.

Photo credit: Lee Kok Leong. Singapore Port.

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