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ICOMIA launches major marine decarbonisation study

The International Council of Marine Industry Associations (ICOMIA) has announced new research outlining a portfolio of technologies best positioned to propel the industry towards decarbonisation. 

The research, which looks at marine propulsion in boats under 24m in length, found that due to the unique on-water environment for recreational boating and the varied interests of boaters and the experiences they seek, there is no ‘one size fits all’ solution. Instead, a variety of solutions must be considered to continue reducing carbon emissions from recreational boats.

The research report, titled Pathways to Propulsion Decarbonisation for the Recreational Marine Industry, provides guidance to global governments and boating industry stakeholders as they work together to shape investments in technology and policy.

Recreational boats are said to account for less than 0.1% of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, 0.7% of transportation carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions in the United States and 0.4% of transportation CO2 emissions in Europe. 

In the last two decades, the US recreational marine industry has decreased marine engine emissions by more than 90% and increased fuel efficiency by more than 40%.

“Our love for boating is fundamentally reliant on a healthy and sustainable marine environment, and we must take care of it to ensure the experiences boating provides can be enjoyed for generations to come,” said Darren Vaux, president of ICOMIA. “For the first time, we’ve united the global recreational marine industry around our most comprehensive, peer-reviewed research to explore opportunities that could reduce recreational boats’ carbon emissions, giving us the data we need to begin educating policy makers, our stakeholder community, and boaters on the varied decarbonisation solutions unique to our industry. 

“This new research provides guidance on the focus for the innovations we can begin exploring today to create a better boating experience that reduces our environmental footprint.”

The research, commissioned by ICOMIA was carried out by global engineering consulting firm, Ricardo, and investigated propulsion technologies across nine common recreational watercraft comparing the impact of lifetime GHG emissions, financial costs, usability, performance, range and infrastructure implications. 

The propulsion technologies investigated included:

Battery electric (electric-powered boats and watercraft)

Hybrid electric (internal combustion engines using liquid fuel and electric)

Hydrogen (internal combustion engines or fuel cell)

Internal combustion engines with sustainable marine fuels (sustainably produced liquid substitute for conventional fossil fuel)

Internal combustion engines with petrol or diesel

The research found recreational boats are considerably different than most other transportation sectors, including automotive (on-road vehicles). Unlike automobiles, which are relied on to get from point A to B, recreational boats are used for leisure and vary significantly in not only how, but how often, they are used. 

The research also looked at the impact of the cost of ownership based on propulsion technology, and compared to boats on the water today, increases in cost of ownership ranging from 5% to 250% are expected until alternatives achieve market scale

In addition to current internal combustion and fossil fuel-powered boats, the industry must consider a portfolio of technologies, including:

Sustainable liquid marine fuels, such as renewable drop-in fuels, are expected to be the most suitable source of energy to decarbonise recreational boats by 2035 – by as much as 90% – without compromising the distance a boat can travel or its performance.

Hydrogen is an emerging technology and a potential source for reducing carbon emissions from boats, as long as its production process is optimised. 

Hydrogen, if produced via electrolysis with zero fossil fuel electricity, can reduce carbon emissions for certain craft categories.

Electric propulsion is part of the strategy to decarbonise, however, it is not universally suitable for all types of recreational craft and use cases. 

Electric-only propulsion may have a higher GHG contribution from raw materials and manufacturing than conventional propulsion systems. 

Watercraft types with lower utilisation are unlikely to find that battery electric systems yield a reduction in GHG compared to the baseline internal combustion engine. 

Battery performance is expected to degrade over time regardless of utilisation. This could impact watercrafts that have a long life span but are not frequently utilised as it may require several battery replacements throughout the vessel’s lifetime.

Hybrid boats that use both electric and internal combustion engines powered by liquid fuels offer the potential for reducing carbon emissions from boats, particularly boats used for longer periods of time and for greater distances. As a result, hybrid technology provides the most potential for emissions reductions for boats that are used for rentals and other high-use environments.

Key next steps

The adoption of a technology neutral decarbonisation approach for marine environments,

an acceleration of the development and distribution of sustainable marine fuels and consumer education campaigns that support the adoption of these new fuels.

Consumer safety and government entities partnering with the recreational marine industry to establish marine electric technology standards and consumer safety protocols.

An expansion of R&D tax credits and investments to improve electric battery density and hydrogen research that can be applied to the marine environment.

Continued research to evaluate existing and emerging technologies and how to best apply them to the unique marine environment. 

“Despite our progress over the past two decades, our industry recognises and embraces the challenges and opportunities to create a sustainable future for recreational boating. We are excited to support and encourage the latest innovations to create a better boating experience,” Darren continued. “Sustainable marine fuels allow boaters to act now while the industry continues innovating and investing in new technologies that push the boundaries of what’s possible. 

“Through this research and a global education campaign, we’re uniting the recreational marine industry around a portfolio of solutions that creates positive change through multiple pathways and a framework to collectively move our industry forward.”


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