For a century, the world’s oceangoing fleet has been powered by crude.

The 50,000 ships plowing the high seas consume more than 5 million barrels every day, not much less than all the aircraft in the sky. One-twentieth of all oil ends up burned in a ship engine. Those days may soon be ending.

That’s because the world’s merchant ships are about to undergo the most profound revolution they’ve seen since the dying days of coal-powered steamships. Rules being quietly hammered out by the International Maritime Organization or IMO (the United Nations body that regulates shipping) are about to change the industry beyond measure.