Maritime actors push on with overcoming ammonia fuel safety concerns

How do two recent reports (one from Bureau Veritas & Total, the other from the Together in Safety consortium) illustrate how the maritime industry is pushing ahead with low carbon ammonia fuel?

Where there’s a will, there’s a way

This industry means to decarbonize, and action is being taken by regulators, corporates, startups and Not for Profits alike. For the emergence of low carbon ammonia as a maritime fuel, there is already considerable confidence and investment. There is ongoing work to bridge technology gaps for ammonia fuel cells and maritime ICUs (Internal Combustion Engines) with production line models forecast for 2024. Regulatory bodies are engaged with the maritime ammonia fuel future and Classification Societies are leading the expert assessment and development of standards, usually in collaboration with industry stakeholders. Ports and ammonia producers are also heavily embedded with the consortia toward developing the future infrastructure. A crucial development facet is of course safety, and the first step on any safety journey is to identify the hazards.

Step one: identifying the hazards

First, we should recognise that HAZID analysis for ammonia maritime fuel is not new. In 2019 Dutch Naval architects C-Job released “the first known [public] risk analysis for an ammonia fuel system for a vessel.” In the analysis of Lead Architect Niel de Vries, 61 possible failure modes for an ammonia-powered vessel were identified, with 28 of those representing risks deemed “unacceptable.” de Vries then proposed a range of mitigation measures that could “bring the risks…to a lower tolerable and acceptable level.”

Click to learn more about the new report from Bureau Veritas and Total Energies. Source: BV.
Click to learn more about the new report from Bureau Veritas and Total Energies. Source: BV.

Fast forward to June of this year, where Bureau Veritas (BV) and Total Energies have completed a study on Tackling Ammonia Leak Risks. The project arose from Total asking BV how on-board ammonia leak risks compared with LNG . BV’s technical document Tentative Rules – NR671 Ammonia- Fuelled Ships is used to guide the study, which addressed aspects such as: estimates of ammonia concentration upon leakage, sizing of associated safety systems, leak effects in engine rooms, safety zones around vent masts and personal exposure health risks. On release of the results, BV Senior Vice President Technical & Operations Laurent Leblanc commented that:

While further experimentation and analysis are required to reach definitive conclusions, this preliminary study helped identify future areas to explore for de-risking ammonia as fuel…

Ideally, technology will eventually evolve enough to eliminate ammonia leaks completely. Until then, leak mitigation and treatment remain the best course of action for ship owners and designers. Bureau Veritas’ preliminary study with TotalEnergies forms a strong basis for future industry collaboration, providing a foundation for ammonia as fuel advancement. By pairing the right questions with the right tests, marine stakeholders can begin the journey to de-risking ammonia as fuel, as they did for LNG.

BV Marine & Offshore Senior Vice President Technical & Operations Laurent Leblanc in his organisation’s official press release, 27 June 2022
Click to download the new report from Together in Safety: Future Fuels Risk Assessment (June 2022).
Click to download the new report from Together in Safety: Future Fuels Risk Assessment (June 2022).

Next, Together in Safety has released results of a Future Fuels Risk Assessment undertaken among a working group that includes APM Terminals, Carnival Corporation, Chevron, Euronav, Lloyds Register, Maersk, MSC Ship Management, OCIMF and Shell. This study addresses not only ammonia but also hydrogen. Making use of a “Structured What If?” (SWIFT) technique, a HAZID exercise was performed, including the already implemented fuels of methanol and LNG for comparison purposes.

In the published results matrix – perhaps not surprisingly – ammonia owns all the hazards considered High and therefore intolerable. In the conclusion, this categorization is clarified with the following phrase, familiar to all safety practitioners:

…as such the hazards should be eliminated, substituted or sufficient controls put in place to significantly reduce the risk to medium or a low-risk rating.

Together in Safety, Future Fuels Risk Assessment, June 2022

These studies again represent the growing knowledge around the safety of maritime ammonia fuel introduction. Understanding the detailed specifics of leak behavior and mitigation is essential, for the time being on a comparative footing between different fuel options. In fact, we have seen this kind of development basis with fuels like methanol & LNG. Together in Safety points to the way forward in the report’s conclusion, emphasizing that all players need to work together to minimise risk:

The recommendation can be defined in areas of responsibility between design, operator, regulations and ports.

Together in Safety, Future Fuels Risk Assessment, June 2022

Step two: collaboration & shared responsibility

This notion is reflected directly in consultative projects such as the GCMD/DNV Ammonia bunkering study, Project Sabre and an Itochu-led fuel supply chain study, all focused on Singapore (Itochu also leads a thirty-four member consortium working on a global framework for the use of ammonia as a maritime fuel). Significant actors are indeed coming together, and momentum is high. There is however one new and perhaps previously lacking element mentioned by Together in Safety that merits attention:

Regardless of the vessels fuel, there are scenarios where vessels shall come across another vessel operating on a different fuel, and thereby having potential a different and unknown risk category. This could be through port operations, collision, rescue or grounding. It is the intention of Together in Safety to work collectively within industry to address this challenge.

Together in Safety, Future Fuels Risk Assessment, June 2022

Such a line of thought highlights not only the assumption that a multi maritime fuel future awaits, but also that there is the need for a systematic approach to implementing these various fuels, not least with regard to safety.

In short, progress in the maritime ammonia space is impressive to date, but it is widely-acknowledged that safety risks still face project developers. Step one is identification of these risks, and there are multiple, high-profile safety studies in progress. These two reports echo points we’ve heard before in the development of methanol & LNG as maritime fuels: high-risk hazards remain that must be eliminated, mitigated or controlled.

The next step is collaboration, and players from all across the shipping industry must share responsibility for the development of safe maritime future fuels like ammonia. The GCMD/DNV bunkering study is a great example of this, with the consortium taking HAZID as step one, and pushing all the way through to pilot demonstrations by 2026. The reports from BV/Total & Together in Safety don’t exist in a vacuum, but are part of the trajectory for the maritime sector to decarbonise using ammonia as a fuel.

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Laurentiu Zamfirescu

Great summary. Thanks for sharing.