The maritime sector’s ammonia learning curve: moving from scenario analysis to product development


The maritime industry is learning about ammonia fast. It is searching for a new bunker fuel, and ammonia is one of the few options that can realistically deliver a 50% reduction in the sector’s GHG emissions by 2050. The IMO declared this target in April 2018 and, in last year’s Annual Review, I wrote about all the reports that were published demonstrating that ammonia could deliver this outcome. In the last 12 months, by contrast, we have moved quickly beyond analysis and into engineering design, technology testing, and product development.

The first maritime ammonia engine tests are underway. MAN Energy Solutions unveiled its two-stroke engine concept in November 2018, and is busy developing the technology further. Since then, of course, other engine developers have also begun focusing on the carbon-free maritime opportunity.

Hazard analysis has informed new design guidelines for on-ship risk mitigation. C-Job Naval Architects published this work in June 2019, and will be presenting it at next month’s Ammonia Energy Conference in Orlando, FL. The first-time participation of multiple maritime classification societies at this event indicates that the industry, which takes fuel safety extremely seriously, will move this important topic forward with confidence and speed in the coming year.

Major industry players are developing consortiums, to share the risk of swift innovation. ZEEDS, an engineering concept for large-scale offshore bunker ammonia production, is led by Wärtsilä with partners Aker Solutions, DFDS, Equinor, Grieg Star, and Kvaerner. And, just today, A.P. Moller – Maersk announced the results of its joint modeling project with Lloyd’s Register:

The best positioned fuels for research and development into net zero fuels for shipping are alcohol [methanol and ethanol], biomethane, and ammonia …

“The main challenge is not at sea but on land,” explains Søren Toft, Maersk Chief Operating Officer. “Technology changes inside the vessels are minor when compared to the massive innovative solutions and fuel transformation that must be found to produce and distribute sustainable energy sources on a global scale. We need to have a commercially viable carbon neutral vessel in service 11 years from now.”

Maersk press release, Alcohol, Biomethane and Ammonia are the best-positioned fuels to reach zero net emissions, October 24, 2019

Given the long economic life of a big ship, vessels built in the 2020s will still be operating in 2050. To be compliant with the IMO’s GHG emission reduction target, therefore, Maersk is targeting 2030 as the date by when its first carbon-neutral vessel must be launched.

As a result, shipbuilders are already preparing to transition their newbuildings to new fuels. Also at the Ammonia Energy Conference, DSME (one of South Korea’s ‘big three’) will be presenting its new strategy in this area. “For preparing the NH3 era, DSME is planning to expand our technology and business to NH3 engineering and systems for commercial ships.”

It is not just industry: governments have also been pushing this schedule. The UK Department for Transport, in its Clean Maritime Plan, is calling for ammonia fueled vessels to be operational in the medium term (“5-15 years” from now).

Given all this progress in the last 12 months, it would not be a surprise if the first ammonia-powered demonstration vessel is announced within the next 12 months.



This article is part of our Annual Review 2019. To mark the third anniversary of Ammonia Energy, we are highlighting ten “tip-of-the-iceberg” topics that we’ve written about over the last 12 months. In each case, we think we see something just peeking above the current flow of events that is developing into a major phenomenon below the surface.

Read all the stories in our Annual Review 2019.