Viking Energy to be retrofit for ammonia fuel in 2024

Photo: “Viking Energy,” Eidesvik Offshore AS. Fuel Cells and Hydrogen Joint Undertaking (FCH JU) announcement, Major project to convert offshore vessel to run on ammonia-powered fuel cell, January 23, 2020

This morning, it was announced that the “Viking Energy,” a supply vessel for Equinor’s offshore operations, will be modified to run on a 2 MW direct ammonia fuel cell. This will be a five year project: the technology will be scaled-up on land before being installed on the vessel, which will begin a year of GHG emission-free operations in 2024.

Viking Energy is a supply vessel, owned and operated by Eidesvik, and on contract to Equinor, for whom it transports supplies to installations on the Norwegian continental shelf. The vessel already has history for energy innovation:

Shipowner Eidesvik has always had a clear vision of burning as little fossil fuel as possible and has been a pioneer in implementing new environmental technologies in both newbuilds and existing fleet. With its current focus on ammonia, the company is a front-runner for zero emissions, and having Viking Energy as test vessel was a natural choice. Not only was she the world’s first supply vessel powered by LNG when delivered in 2003. In 2016, the North Sea workhorse also became the world’s first hybrid supply vessel with class notation “Battery Power” from DNVGL.

Eidesvik press release, Viking Energy to become the world’s first supply vessel with emission-free fuel solution, January 23, 2020

Consortium connects the full supply chain

ShipFC is a 14-member consortium of European industry and research organizations, co-ordinated by the Norwegian “cluster organisation,” NCE Maritime CleanTech. The project has a budget of 230 million NOK (US $25 million), of which €10 million (US $11 million) is being funded by the EU’s Fuel Cells and Hydrogen Joint Undertaking (FCH JU), through its Horizon 2020 program.

The Norwegian partners leading this “world’s first” project include shipowner Eidesvik, contractor Equinor, and ammonia producer Yara, as well as Wärtsilä (Wärtsilä Norway), responsible for power technology and ammonia storage and distribution systems, and Prototech, delivering the fuel cell system.

For fuel, Yara will supply green ammonia, “produced by electrolysis [using renewable energy] and delivered to Viking Energy containerised to enable easy and safe refuelling.” Presumably, this carbon-free fuel will be produced from the Porsgrunn plant, where Yara (and electrolyzer-manufacturer Nel) announced last year that a green ammonia pilot project would begin operations in 2022.

Demonstrates long-distance, carbon-free power

For the maritime sector, this technology scale-up and commercial demonstration will go a long way to address concerns about decarbonization. Some in the industry are still unsure that carbon-free fuels exist; more legitimate questions ask about their economics or safety, or whether they can be deployed in the near-term at significant scale.

The project will test whether the technology can deliver 100 percent carbon-free power over long distances.

According to the project plans ammonia will meet 60 to 70 percent of the power requirement on board for a test period of one year. Viking Energy will still be able to use LNG as fuel, and the remaining power requirement will be met by battery …

“If we solve this the ship industry will for the first time use a fuel that does not generate emissions during combustion. Much work remains, but Equinor will contribute both to technology development and as a customer. We have never before used a carbon-free fuel on a large vessel without range anxiety,” says Henriette Undrum, Equinor’s head of future value chains.

Equinor press release, The world’s first carbon-free ammonia-fuelled supply vessel on the drawing board, January 23, 2020

From Design to Demonstration, then Deployment

Last month, I wrote that ammonia-fueled ships had moved beyond concept and feasibility phases and were entering the design phase. Already, it seems, the industry is looking beyond that design phase and has begun to prepare the demonstration phase. The next phase will be deployment.

“As part of the testing, the vessel will use ammonia in transit between harbour and offshore installations for one year. In addition, we envisage that ammonia will be used to power the vessel when alongside quay. Our ambition is that 60 to 70 percent of the energy consumption will come from ammonia during the test period. In addition, we want to demonstrate that the technology can supply up to 90 per cent of the total power demand,” [says Vermund Hjelland, Vice President of technology and development at Eidesvik Offshore].

Eidesvik press release, Viking Energy to become the world’s first supply vessel with emission-free fuel solution, January 23, 2020

From engines to fuel cells

In my article last month, I reported that shipbuilders and classification societies were working together to design ammonia-fueled ships — including an 180,000 ton bulk carrier, a 2,700 TEU (twenty-foot equivalent unit) capacity Chittagongmax container carrier, and a 23,000 TEU ultra-large container ship. Each of those projects incorporated the two-stroke ammonia engine developed by MAN ES. Until now, almost all projects looking at ammonia as a maritime fuel have focused on conventional internal combustion engines.

By contrast, today’s announcements puts the fuel cell at the forefront of low-emission propulsion technologies: specifically, a direct ammonia solid oxide fuel cell (SOFC).

This is the first time an ammonia-powered fuel-cell will be installed on a vessel.  A significant part of the project will be the scale up of a 100-kilowatt fuel cell to 2 megawatts. The fuel cell is tested on land in a parallel project and development and construction will be undertaken by Prototech. Testing will be executed at the Sustainable Energy Norwegian Catapult Centre. The ship-side ammonia system will be supplied by Wärtsilä.

Prototech press release, Prototech Awarded Contract to Supply 2MW Zero-Emission Ammonia Fuel Cell Module, January 23, 2020

Collaboration across Europe, across hydrogen technologies

The ShipFC consortium extends beyond Norway. Fraunhofer IMM, a German research institute, will support Prototech “in the development and construction of the ammonia fuel cell system.” Persee, a “specialised SME” based in France, will contribute “energy management controls and data.” And “safety criteria” will be assessed by the University of Strathclyde and the National Centre for Scientific Research Demokritis, from the UK and Greece respectively.

The funding from the FCH JU, also announced today, confirms that the leaders of the hydrogen community have grown to view ammonia as an enabling molecule within a broad portfolio of hydrogen technologies: a hydrogen carrier, rather than a hydrogen competitor. (This new reality is also reflected in our other article this week, about the Hydrogen Council’s report, Path to hydrogen competitiveness.)

The director of the FCH JU, Bart Biebuyck, said: “Fair wind to the ShipFC project as it trials the route of maritime decarbonisation with green ammonia as a fuel and Solid Oxide Fuel Cell as a powertrain. It thus complements the portfolio of maritime projects supported by FCH2 JU: MARANDA and FLAGSHIPS, which use hydrogen as a fuel and Proton Exchange Membrane Fuel Cells.”

Fuel Cells and Hydrogen Joint Undertaking (FCH JU) announcement, Major project to convert offshore vessel to run on ammonia-powered fuel cell, January 23, 2020

It is one thing to develop and demonstrate these new technologies, but they also need to be deployed across the industry. To this end, another part of the ShipFC project will “perform studies on three other vessel types, namely offshore construction vessels and two cargo vessel types.” For this, three other partners have joined the consortium — North Sea Shipping, Capital-Executive Ship Management, and Star Bulk Ship Management, from Norway, Greece, and Cyprus respectively — and will be working specifically “to transfer the technology to other vessels.”

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