Energy Efficiency Maersk will build world's largest container ships, then recycle them

Published on February 26th, 2011 | by Tina Casey


World’s Largest Container Ships Will Be Recycled…Eventually

February 26th, 2011 by  

Maersk will build world's largest container ships, then recycle themPlenty of people are interested in recycling shipping containers – the military even mods them out to build fake training villages – but what about recycling the entire ship? Well, Danish shipping giant Maersk is going for it on a grand scale. The company is ordering up to 30 new ships at $190 million a pop. Called the Triple-E class, they are said to be the largest vessel of any kind (at least, for now), and each will come with a cradle-to-cradle “passport” documenting every component for future recycling or reuse.

Recycling Old Ships

Salvage is about as old as shipping itself, but the Maersk program takes it to a new level. As Will Nichols over at reports, the company anticipates that about 90% of the material on each ship can be re-used to build future ships. The other 10% will be recycled or disposed of “in the safest, most efficient manner” according to the company. Documenting the components builds a significant new measure of cost-effectiveness into lifecycle planning, which adds to the value of recycled materials compared to newly manufactured components.

Greener Shipping

Carbon emissions from shipping are a big and growing part of the climate change picture. Maersk’s new ships offer a way to help get that under control, and not just through recycling. The new ships were named Triple-E for “Economy of scale, Energy efficient, and Environmentally improved.” Scale is pretty straightforward: bigger ships mean fewer trips. A new hull and bow design will contribute to energy efficiency, and the ships will sport a waste heat recovery system to capture and reuse the energy from engine exhaust gas. All together, Maersk expects the ships to move containers through the Asia-Europe trade lane with about 50 percent less carbon emissions and 35 percent less fuel per container than the industry average.

Image: Recycling by Tamaa Burross on

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About the Author

specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.

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  • The thought of recycling these huge shipping containers excite me to no end. Already we have shipping container houses that are extremely lovely and very useful! Just think of what we could do with these!

  • Instead of purchasing new, larger eco-friendly container ships, wouldn’t it make sense to phase out the current ships by savaging and recycling them into the newer larger ships? Just a thought…

    • Tina Casey

      Andrew, good point. It’s quite possible that the new ships already incorporate some recycled materials. If you’d like to contact Maersk and ask them, let us know if they respond.

      • xoussef

        The container shipping business was hard hit in the downturn. Volumes aren’t yet up to the pre-crises figures. So my guess is that the new capacity will replace older ships, not expand the capacity.

        • Tina Casey

          Thank you, xoussef. From what I’ve read the projections are for significant growth in the near future. If that proves true, in addition to improved resource conservation (energy efficiency and lifecycle management), the only way to get shipping emissions under control over the long term is to adopt alternative fuels.

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