Sustainability-in-Tech : Sailing Towards Sustainability

Here we look at the new technologies could lead to a more environmentally friendly and ‘cleaner’ shipping industry, and we look briefly at promising clean tech innovations for air freight.

The Challenge 

With 90 per cent of global trades transported by sea, traditional cargo ships are responsible for a significant portion of the world’s carbon emissions i.e., the international maritime sector produces almost 3 per cent of total global carbon emissions.

New Technologies That Could Clean Up Shipping 

Some of the new technological developments that could lead to more environmentally friendly, ‘cleaner’ shipping include innovative electric boats like the ‘Pioneer’.

The Pioneer flying boat developed by Artemis Technologies. This is a world’s first electric foiling workboat. It has foil/a wing-like structure underneath the boat that actually lifts the hull right out of the water which reduces drag and enables a smooth, fast ride. It has been designed and built by Belfast-based marine technology company Artemis Technologies to transport cargo over long distances in a more environmentally friendly manner. The Pioneer is essentially a hybrid electric flying boat, that’s powered by both a traditional internal combustion engine and an electric motor. According to the company, the flying boat will be able to carry up to 50 tons of cargo.

One of the main ways in which the Pioneer flying boat could contribute to cleaner, more sustainable shipping is by reducing carbon emissions thanks to its electric technology. Additionally, the Pioneer flying boat could potentially operate on a variety of alternative fuels, such as biofuels or hydrogen, which would further reduce its environmental impact.

Another way in which the Pioneer flying boat could contribute to cleaner shipping is by reducing the amount of road congestion and related air pollution. By transporting goods via sea rather than by road or rail, the flying boat could help to alleviate pressure on these already-congested transportation networks.

Also, electric boats such as those made by Artemis could benefit the environment (and passengers) due to the fact that they don’t produce the kind of wake that traditional boats create, can operate close to the harbour, don’t cause the same kind of coastal degradation, and can offer reduced journey times.

The Pioneer flying boat could be one technological advancement that has the potential to revolutionise the way goods are transported over long distances, offering a more environmentally friendly and sustainable alternative to traditional cargo ships and other modes of transportation.

Other Ways The Shipping Industry Could Become More Environmentally Friendly 

Other ways that the shipping industry could become more environmentally friendly include:

– Using battery-powered boats for short distances.

– For international shipping, using green hydrogen-based fuels could reduce carbon emissions. However, transitioning to hydrogen would require changes to fuel infrastructure, as well as modifications to the ships to make them compatible with hydrogen fuel.

– Bridging the gap between fossil fuels and clean hydrogen by sustainably producing and using Syngas i.e., a mixture of hydrogen and carbon monoxide. For example, a Cambridge University experiment is using artificial leaves floated on the surface of rivers to generate clean fuels from sunlight and water. The hope is this could be scaled up to autonomous floating, fuel production centres in in remote areas, near the shore, on lakes, or on islands to create refuelling stations for ships.

– Using traditional, wind-powered cargo sailing ships e.g., Costs Rica-based ‘Sailcargo’ transports containers using traditional sailing ships.

Unmanned, Cargo-Hauling Drone Aircraft 

One way that air freight could be cleaned up may come from using cargo drones operated from the 3,000 smaller airstrips across Europe. The drones, flying below passenger air traffic could move smaller loads e.g., 350kg. Examples of companies already experimenting with these cargo drones include Bulgaria-based Dronamics (powered by an electric engine), and U Elroy Air (drones powered by a hybrid electric engine – includes an electric generating turbine and runs off aviation fuel). As well as operating from airfields, for longer distances, these drones could also be loaded aboard and operated from electric-powered ships.


Some of challenges to ‘cleaning up’ the shipping and air freight industries include:

– The lack of infrastructure for alternative fuels. Shipping and air freight currently rely heavily on fossil fuels, which are major contributors to carbon emissions. To reduce these emissions, it will be necessary to invest heavily in infrastructure for alternative fuels such as electric or hydrogen-based fuels.

– Another challenge is the cost of transitioning to alternative fuels. While the long-term benefits of using cleaner fuels may be significant, the upfront cost of converting ships and planes to alternative fuels, as well as the cost of building the necessary infrastructure, can be prohibitively expensive.

– Technological challenges. For example, electric and hydrogen-based fuels may not have the same energy density as fossil fuels, which means that they may not be suitable for use in long-distance shipping or air freight.

– Regulatory challenges. Governments will need to establish clear policies and incentives to encourage the use of cleaner fuels in the shipping and air freight industries.

What Does This Mean For Your Organisation? 

New, innovative, and cleaner technological developments, such as electric (foil) boats battery-powered (boats for short distances), hydrogen-based fuels, syngas, and launching electric cargo drones from electric boats all hold the promise of reducing carbon emissions and could be a beneficial alternative to environmentally unfriendly, carbon producing fossil fuels. In terms of benefits, using these technologies would allow shipping companies to not just reduce their environmental impact but also meet regulatory requirements for emissions reductions. It could also help businesses and consumers to meet their own sustainability goals. Additionally, the adoption of these cleaner technologies could help to reduce the long-term costs of shipping by reducing the need for expensive fuel sources. At the moment, however, there are still significant challenges to overcome in introducing these technologies at scale which means we won’t be reaping the benefits soon, but at least there are promising and practical alternatives to the current situation.