Does battery power hold a hidden pitfall for shipping?

At times because of the bad press given to the shipping industry it may seem as if all of the world’s ills are due to ships and how they are operated.

No one should doubt that shipping, like almost all human activity, has the potential to impact the environment and every effort should be made to minimise that impact. But shipping seems to have drawn the short straw when it comes to blame.

In the last twenty years alone, our industry has been subject to regulation on coatings because the use of TBT was causing problems for some marine organisms, on ballast water because too many of those organisms were being transferred around the globe. Shipping’s exhaust emissions are blamed for causing climate change and environmental degradation and as for their impact on human health, shipping is said to cost the lives of hundreds of thousands every year. Then there is the cost to the environment from recycling aged ships.

Because of all of these negative effects ships have been prevented from using effective coatings, fire-fighting and refrigerant gases and have been obliged to fit expensive treatment systems and to face the possibility of being taxed on emissions of GHG at some time in the not too distant future.

Whether voluntarily or forced by regulation, shipping is actively pursuing solutions to all of these charges and in many cases succeeding. To do so shipping has adopted many new technologies over the years and with battery power in hybrid ships probably believes that it is following the lead of other industries which have embraced this ‘clean’ form of energy.

However, it could be that it will not be long before battery power too comes in for scrutiny. It is indeed clean when used for its intended purpose but there is a growing movement that is questioning the ethics of some of the materials used in battery production.

So far, reports and articles such as this are focussing on the electric car and mobile phone industries but unless something is done by the makers of batteries then the accusing finger will soon be pointing at shipping as well.

Perhaps any owner intending to install batteries might do well to ensure that their suppliers are able to prove evidence of ethical sourcing in order to be prepared for another assault on the ‘uncaring attitude of ship operators’ by enraged activists.