Last week Wärtsilä, the Finnish engine and energy equipment manufacturer, unveiled a concept for producing and distributing low-carbon maritime fuels from purpose-built facilities in the waters off northern Europe. Dubbed Zero Emission Energy Distribution at Sea (ZEEDS), the initiative is intended to help meet the International Maritime Organization’s target of halving the shipping sector's carbon dioxide emissions by 2050. And although Wärtsilä’s press release on June 3 mentions only “clean fuels,” the headline used by logistics-sector publisher Freight Week for their June 5 story is “Offshore fuel hubs to supply green ammonia for zero-emission future.”
In May, the Environmental Defense Fund published Sailing on Solar, a significant new report that assesses the potential for green ammonia to be used as a maritime fuel, reducing the global shipping industry's carbon emissions.
Its 60-page techno-economic analysis concludes that "green ammonia can – indeed should – be adopted as a greenhouse gas-free fuel more easily, quickly and safely than people may assume." Indeed, Sailing on Solar estimates that, to meet decarbonization targets, ammonia will need to start being adopted in ships "during the 2020s."
A new report from CATF, Fuels Without Carbon: Prospects and the Pathway Forward for Zero-Carbon Hydrogen and Ammonia Fuels, explores how a massive scale-up in the production and use of zero-carbon hydrogen and ammonia might help decarbonize segments of the power sector, the industrial sector, and the transportation sector (both marine and ground). Fuels Without Carbon looks at how the availability of zero-carbon hydrogen and ammonia fuels could help address several vexing climate-energy challenges, and it examines the steps that need to be taken to fully understand and address the safety and environmental risks associated with the two chemicals. Fuels Without Carbon also identifies several public and private sectors initiatives — including a few being pursued by CATF — for analyzing the opportunities and challenges associated with hydrogen and ammonia fuel, educating stakeholders about the potential benefits and risks, designing and advocating for appropriately supportive policies, and engaging with key power and mobility companies.
In January 2019, the UK Department for Transport published a policy paper outlining its vision for the maritime sector over the coming decades. Among the many recommendations contained in Maritime 2050: navigating the future, is a medium-term objective to place "a group of hydrogen or ammonia powered domestic vessels in operation."
The "strategic ambition" driving this recommendation is the expectation that "the UK will ... lead the way in taking action on clean maritime growth enjoying economic benefits from being an early adopter or fast mover." Moving forward, these recommendations will be developed into policy in the government's forthcoming Clean Maritime Plan, scheduled to be published in Spring 2019.
In June 2018, MAN Diesel & Turbo rebranded itself MAN Energy Solutions, reflecting the maritime engine market leader's "strategic and technological transformation" towards sustainability. The company was "taking a stand for the Paris Climate Agreement and the global pursuit of a carbon-neutral economy." According to Uwe Lauber, Chairman of the Board, "our activities have a significant impact on the global economy. In shipping, for example, we move more than half of the global stream of goods ... [and] the path to decarbonising the maritime economy starts with fuel decarbonisation, especially in container shipping."
This week, the company took a significant step towards realizing its vision, disclosing that it is "pressing ahead with developing ... an ammonia-fuelled engine." This builds on the technology development pathway that MAN ES presented at the NH3 Energy+ Topical Conference at Pittsburgh in October 2018. The budget and timeline are set: the €5 million (USD$5.7 million) project will last two to three years and, if the shipowners decide to deploy the finished product, "the first ammonia engine could then be in operation by early 2022."
Mission Possible, a recent report published by the Energy Transitions Commission, presents an extremely detailed roadmap for "Reaching net-zero carbon emissions from harder-to-abate sectors by mid-century." The report is designed to support the targets of the Paris Agreement by sending "a clear signal to policymakers, investors and businesses: full decarbonization is possible, making ambitious climate objectives achievable."
Ammonia is one of the crucial solutions that make Mission Possible possible. In its 172-pages, the report details the technologies and the economics behind decarbonizing ammonia, the "likely" adoption of ammonia as the carbon-free fuel of choice for long-distance shipping, and the "key role" ammonia will play in enabling international trade in renewable power.
A new report, Roadmap to Decarbonising European Shipping, identifies a mix of three technologies - batteries, hydrogen, and ammonia - as being "by far the most efficient way to decarbonise the sector." Even so, to satisfy demand from EU's carbon-free shipping sector in 2050, this technology mix will require the installation of huge amounts of additional renewable power generation, equivalent to 25% of the EU's total electricity production.
In the last 12 months ...
The International Maritime Organization issued its Initial GHG Strategy, committing the global shipping industry to emission reductions that cannot be achieved with carbon-based fuels. This single action is the regulatory trigger that unleashes a three-decade transition to carbon-free liquid fuels like ammonia. The target date for this 50% reduction in emissions is 2050 but, given the long economic life of ocean vessels, the transition must begin immediately.
This week, DNV GL published its annual Energy Transition Outlook, providing a long-term forecast for global energy production and consumption, and including a dedicated report describing its Maritime Forecast to 2050. This is the first forecast from a major classification society explicitly to evaluate ammonia as a maritime fuel.
By 2050, DNV GL predicts that 39% of the global shipping energy mix will consist of "carbon-neutral fuels," a category that include ammonia, hydrogen, biofuels, and other fuels produced from electricity. By 2050, these fuels will therefore have gained greater market share than oil, LNG, and battery-electric. If ammonia succeeds as the carbon-neutral fuel of choice in the shipping sector, this new demand will be roughly equivalent to 200 million tons of ammonia per year, more than today's total global production.
Last week, I wrote about a crucial new report that discusses four fuel technologies: batteries, hydrogen, ammonia, and nuclear. These could reduce the shipping sector's emissions in line with targets set in the IMO's Initial GHG Strategy. The report, Reducing CO2 Emissions to Zero, concludes that "all industry stakeholders ... need to get on with the job of developing zero CO2 fuels." This call to action should be consequential: it comes from the International Chamber of Shipping, an influential industry group that represents "more than 80% of the world merchant fleet."
This week, I provide an example of the kind of research required, with an update on a project that aims to demonstrate "the technical feasibility and cost effectiveness of an ammonia tanker fueled by its own cargo."
Although this project is still in its early days, I want to highlight three aspects that I believe will be crucial to its success. First, the work is being done by a consortium, bringing together many industry stakeholders, each with its own expertise and commercial interests. Second, the scope of research extends beyond conventional engine configurations to include not just new fuels but also new technology combinations; in other words, rather than assess new fuels in old engines, it aims to develop optimized propulsion designs for zero-emission fuels. And, third, its consideration of ammonia as a fuel begins with a comprehensive safety analysis.