Jan 5, 2021 | Clean shipping articles and long reads

By Ian Cochran

You have to be living on another planet if you are not aware that the de-carbonisation in shipping debate is in full swing. However, we are still a long way off. As one expert put it: “There is no winning solution at present.” Regulations will need to be developed and it will be an expensive challenge.

In the past few months, Clean Shipping International has received reports from at least three classification societies, the International Maritime Organization (IMO), a major trading house and the International Energy Agency (IEA), to name but a few.

At the IMO, seemingly under fire from all sides by the European Union, a new concept for a collaborative global ecosystem of maritime transport de-carbonisation initiatives was jointly introduced with the Singapore authorities last September. Called “NextGEN”, it aims to facilitate information sharing on de-carbonisation initiatives across many stakeholders – including IMO Member States, NGOs, industry and academia – to identify opportunities and gaps for decarbonisation in the global shipping community; and create important networks and platforms for collaboration across these initiatives.

Further discussions are envisaged at the forthcoming Future of Shipping conference in Singapore to be held in February, 2021. In addition next year, dedicated workshops will be organised by the IMO and supported by Singapore. Turning to DNV GL, the classification society’s fourth edition of its Maritime Forecast to 2050 was unveiled a couple of months ago and made interesting reading.

A range of scenarios was taken into consideration, outlining the potential risks of a particular fuel choice. The 30 scenarios chosen result in widely different outcomes for the fuel mix in the fleet. Taking no de-carbonisation ambitions, very low sulphur fuel oil (VLSFO), marine gas oil (MGO) and liquefied natural gas (LNG) dominate. While under the decarbonisation pathways, in 2050 a variety of carbon-neutral fuels will hold between 60% and 100% market share. It was hard to identify clear winners among the many different fuel options, the report said. Fossil LNG will gain a significant share until regulations tighten in 2030 or 2040. BioMGO, e-MGO, bio-LNG and e-LNG emerge as drop-in fuels for existing ships.

By 2050, in the different scenarios, e-ammonia, blue ammonia and bio-methanol often end up with a strong share of the market and are the most promising carbonneutral fuels in the long term. A somewhat surprising result from the model is the relative limited uptake of hydrogen as a fuel, given all the rhetoric now surrounding this — which is growing louder. DNV GL explained that this was down to both the estimated price for the fuel and the investment costs for the engine and fuel systems.

However, hydrogen will play an integral role as a building block in the production of several carbonneutral fuels, such as e-ammonia, blue ammonia and e-methanol, all of which gain significant uptake under the de-carbonisation pathways.

The 30 scenarios mentioned model16 different fuel types and 10 fuel technology systems. The fuels originate from three primary energy sources: renewable electricity to produce electro-fuels; sustainable biomass to make bio-fuels; and fossil fuels to make both conventional fuels and blue fuels. It was predicted that fossil VLSFO/MGO and LNG will be in rapid decline by midcentury, or even phased out in the most ambitious decarbonisation scenarios.

The uptake of carbon-neutral fuel picks up in the late 2030s or mid-2040s, reaching between 60% and 100% of the fuel mix in 2050. E-ammonia, blue ammonia and bio-methanol were the most promising carbon-neutral fuels in the long run in a de-carbonisation trajectory, DNV GL said, adding that it was hard to judge the eventual winner just yet. Analysing how particular fuel-technology alternatives perform commercially in each scenario, using a newbuilding panamax bulk carrier as a case study, showed that installing a dual-fuel LNG engine and fuel system is consistently the most robust choice.

Carbon-neutral fuels uptake will not happen until a clear and robust regulatory framework is put in place, which must ensure global availability of large volumes of carbonneutral fuels, enable their safe use and incentivise their uptake while retaining a level playing field, DNV GL stressed. This debate will rage on among the stakeholders involved, including regulators, shipowners, operators, plus fuel suppliers, engine designers and many others affected.

Clean Shipping International will continue to deliver the latest opinions, regulations and technology, as we reach the various stages in the quest for a carbon-free future.

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