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Shipping giant Maersk experiments with blockchain for bills of lading

Shipping company Maersk and the IT University of Copenhagen have been testing the use of blockchain to replace paper-based bills of lading, International Business Times (IB Times) has reported. 13 Oct 2016

A bill of lading specifies the type, quantity and destination of goods being shipped. It must travel with the goods, and serves as a receipt of shipment when the goods are delivered.

Blockchain distributed ledger technology is best known for underpinning trading involving the digital currency bitcoin, but it has many other potential uses. Broadly it is a shared digital ledger for recording information, such as the transfer of assets between two or more parties.

Many stakeholders are involved in the shipping process, and the shipping company tends to be responsible for providing the information to all of these bodies, as well as ensuring quality control and security of the goods, Roman Beck, a professor at IT University of Copenhagen told IB Times.

"For me, it’s the perfect king of application for a nice blockchain solution," Beck said.

A shipment can generate a pile of paper "25 centimetres high", Beck told IB Times, and it is hard to track where a shipment is at any one time.

The blockchain experiment removed that paper pile, and also allowed privacy of information. A person selling goods does not necessarily want the buyer to know where they were originally bought, for example, Beck told the news site.

"We have put this into a demonstration to illustrate how this can be achieved. It was quite a steep learning curve for all of us, including Maersk," he said.

The university has also experimented with blockchain in a vehicle registration project with Danish tax authority SKAT, Beck told IB Times.