alternative fuels in shipping

Alternative Fuels in Shipping: Ammonia, Hydrogen, and Methanol

The International Maritime Organization’s (IMO) decision to cut sulphur content in ship fuel by 50% by 2050 and the recently adopted resolution to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 50% by 2050 will drastically alter the future composition of ship fuels. Ships utilize less than a quarter of all heavy fuel oil (HFO) and marine gas oil (MGO) produced globally (2016 figures).

This is about similar to the amount of energy consumed by liquefied natural gas (LNG), which accounts for 24% of total energy consumption; yet, LNG accounts for just around 10% of total gas consumption. DNV GL estimates that this year, only around 4% of ship fuel will be high-sulphur fuel, assuming an installed base of about 4,000 scrubbers.

This brings up the question of whether high-sulfur gasoline will be available outside of the main bunkering ports if only 4,000 or fewer ships can use it. The next question is how much of a price difference there will be between HFO and compliant fuels.

New technologies and alternative fossil fuels in shipping

LNG, LPG, methanol, biofuel, and hydrogen have been selected by DNV GL as the most viable alternative fuels for shipping. Battery systems, fuel cells, and wind-assisted propulsion are among the emerging technologies that the classification organization feels have the potential for ship uses.

Fuel cell systems for ships are being developed, but they will take years to mature to the point where they can replace primary engines. Battery systems are making their way into shipping, although their use is restricted to improving efficiency and flexibility on most seagoing ships.

While wind-assisted propulsion is not a new technology, it will take some time to develop in order to make a significant impact on current ships. When it comes to CO2 emissions, LNG is the fossil fuel that emits the least. But, in some engine types, the emission of unburned methane (so-called methane slip) might limit the advantage of HFO and MGO.

Methane (CH4) has a greenhouse gas impact of 25 to 30 times that of CO2. Nonetheless, engine manufacturers say that Otto-cycle dual-fuel (DF) and pure gas engines have lower tank-to-propeller (TTP) CO2-equivalent emissions than oil-fueled engines. Methanol and hydrogen have much smaller carbon footprints than HFO and MGO when generated using renewable energy or biomass.

Why ammonia, hydrogen, and methanol are clear winners as alternative fuels in shipping

alternative fuels in shipping

April 16, 2021

According to a recent set of analyses produced by the World Bank, ammonia and hydrogen are zero-carbon bunker fuels that are most likely to be key contributors to shipping’s decarbonized future. In 2021, the two green fuels were the “most promising” zero-carbon bunker fuels within the shipping industry.

According to the first paper in the series, “Volume 1: The Potential of Zero-Carbon Bunker Fuels in Developing Countries,” liquefied natural gas (LNG) is anticipated to play “a limited role” in the decarbonization of the maritime sector.

Among a variety of zero-carbon candidate bunker fuels, including biofuels, hydrogen, ammonia, and synthetic carbon-based fuels, the research reveals that green ammonia, closely followed by green hydrogen, strikes the most beneficial balance of positive attributes.

These critical characteristics pertain to the fuels’ lifecycle GHG emissions, larger environmental considerations, scalability, economic feasibility, and technical and safety ramifications. Furthermore, ammonia or hydrogen fuels have the benefit of numerous production methods, since they may be made from renewable energy or natural gas, with carbon emissions absorbed and safely stored underground.

Multiple production paths offer a significant strategic benefit as they address worries about early capacity constraints and technological difficulties. According to the paper, starting the generation of zero-carbon bunker fuels with blue ammonia or hydrogen and gradually transitioning to their green equivalents as renewable power prices decline may be economically beneficial.

But, there is a danger of “stranded assets” for blue ammonia or hydrogen infrastructure, which should be carefully evaluated. Both fuels can be utilized in adapted internal combustion engines in the same manner that HFO is now used. They have technical and economic advantages when used in customized internal combustion engines.

First, existing ships may start using ammonia or hydrogen with only minor alterations and without having to replace their primary engines. Ammonia or hydrogen can potentially take advantage of an existing powertrain supply chain. Ammonia and hydrogen, on the other hand, will be compatible with new fuel cell technologies.

Though biofuels and synthetic carbon-based bunker fuels both have a high technological potential for usage as zero-carbon bunker fuels, large-scale supply is expected to be limited due to a lack of sustainable biomass and increased demands for it, as well as reduced cost competitiveness.

May 9, 2022

Carl Martin Faannessen, CEO of Manila-based crewing business Noatun Maritime, is certain in his prediction of which two fuels would win the race for the next generation of ships. The future of maritime fuels shifted on April 20 this year, yet few people noticed.

Splash247’s executive had the pleasure of sharing a meal with Guy Platten of the International Chamber of Shipping at Singapore Maritime Week. Throughout their conversation, several owners expressed the same issue: zero-carbon can be achieved, but they need certainty that their preferred fuel would be available and certifiably zero-carbon.

This assurance is something they all lack. As a result, owners make either temporary (LNG) or long-term (dual-fuel) decisions, knowing that this hedging will keep them in business for another decade or two. 

Methanol (CH3OH) has received a lot of attention as a result of Maersk’s decision to use it as their first option of zero-carbon fuel. It’s a viable solution if you have biogenic carbon on hand and the ability to trap the methane it produces. Both of them are significant obstacles. Not to be overlooked is the issue of safety: Pure methanol ingestion of 10 mL can kill your visual nerve; 30 mL and higher puts you in a deadly situation.

Rapid delivery of pure ethanol is the most common remedy, thus zero-alcohol regulations onboard will be modified to allow ‘drunk as a skunk’ after methanol consumption. The safe handling of ammonia (NH3) begins with the molecule itself. For decades, it has been securely transported as cargo aboard ships.

It is clear that the procedures and standards required to handle it properly as a fuel, both for the crew and the environment, must be industrialized. Singapore is on it, together with a group of firms, so we know it will be completed successfully. Ammonia, unlike methanol, has no carbon. It becomes a zero-carbon fuel if it is produced entirely with renewable energy.

On April 20, a group of daring entrepreneurs received the world’s first TÜV Rheinland certified for green ammonia and hydrogen. This was achieved by Scatec of Norway and ACME of India. Their Oman project will be able to produce up to 1.2 million tons of green ammonia per year.

There are many ships going via Oman at the moment, and they will soon have a zero-carbon alternative. A similar project has been announced by Scatec in Egypt, in a Suez-friendly site. It’s likely that a comparable green certification will be sought for this project as well. 

Vessels transiting through Suez will soon have a carbon-free alternative. Maersk has also stated that it has big intentions in this sector for both green methanol and green ammonia. Although these are only the first few areas, Singapore has a history of ambitious and extensive planning in this area. Rotterdam, too.

There are also rumors of large-scale plans focusing on Gibraltar and South Africa, as well as Australia and Chile. Now take a look at this historic coaling-station map and feel the warm breath of history repeating itself:

alternative fuels in shipping

The onus of action is shifting back to the owners as the energy industry begins to supply zero-carbon fuels. It’s encouraging to see that some people are rising to the occasion: According to Clarksons, 12 percent of orders placed in the first quarter of this year will operate on ammonia. All of this should give shipowners who are pursuing a zero-carbon future more confidence. The fuel, particularly ammonia, will be accessible.

Zero-carbon bunker fuels offer “a unique opportunity” for developing countries

Many nations, particularly those with abundant renewable energy resources, can break into a future zero-carbon fuel market while also updating their domestic energy and industrial infrastructure, according to the World Bank. “In the context of these growing zero-carbon bunker fuels, the maritime community, particularly in developing countries, has a unique potential,” Bernice Van Bronkhorst, Global Director for Climate Change at the World Bank, stated.

“They may be utilized to improve domestic infrastructure requirements and define a course for low-carbon growth in general, in addition to helping to decarbonize shipping.” The study argues that targeted policy interventions are required to accelerate the energy transition in the industry and capture chances for wider economic, energy, and industrial growth in emerging nations.

The imposition of a substantial carbon price, for example, would level the playing field for the development and use of zero-carbon bunker fuels. The revenue collected by such a market-based approach might aid developing nations in their energy transitions and speed up critical research, development, and deployment of alternative fuels.

Businesses should also concentrate on “no-fail” choices like enhanced energy efficiency and maximum fuel flexibility. The World Bank concluded that constructive collaboration between industry stakeholders and policymakers, both at the IMO and on a national/regional level, can help increase certainty about the availability, pricing, and timing of zero-carbon bunker fuels, which will help accelerate their uptake from 2030.