At current, the maritime industry is not ready to name a clear winner in the future fuel mix. In a recent meeting in our Deep Sea Expert Group, several fuel alternatives were discussed, such as hydrogen, ammonia – and nuclear. The need for a broad approach and flexible solutions is key for decarbonising Deep Sea.
NCE Maritime CleanTech and Maritime Bergen’s “Decarbonisation of Deep Sea”-project gathers leading ship owners within different operational areas: Gearbulk, Knutsen, Odfjell, Utkilen and Wilhelmsen.
The topic for the expert group’s meeting on 4 November was “The Future Zero Emission Fuels”, and included presentations from Lloyd’s Register, DNV GL, Wärtsilä, the ShipFC project, the HyShip project, in addition to the involved shipowners.
The future potential in alternative fuels
Faced with uncertainty on which fuels we should choose for the future and what the CO2 costs and the fuel prices will be, the industry needs to come together and identify possible pathways towards decarbonisation.
Today less than 1% of the current fleet is running on alternative fuels. According to DNV GL, their recent reports highlight carbon neutral ammonia as a solution with great potential towards 2050. Hydrogen can play an important part as a building block for other fuels.
Flexible fuels and engines
In the meeting Wärtsilä presented their multiway-approach, working on fuels that can replace existing fuels (e.g. e-fuels and biofuels), strengthening energy-efficiency-measures, exploring hydrogen and methanol, and starting an intensive test program for ammonia.
In the future energy system flexibility will be key when it comes to both fuel and technology. Within the next two years Wärtsilä foresees to have found many important answers on how different fuels can be used in various applications.
Tore Boge, who is leading the ShipFC project, presented the ground-breaking plans for the installation of a green ammonia energy system onboard Eidesvik’s Viking Energy. The EU-supported project aims to mature the technology and to prove the case of zero emission shipping. The project also includes three replicators that include scaling up of the system up to 20 MW, strengthening the project’s relevance for Deep Sea operations.
The shipowner’s perspective
Shipowner Odfjell Tankers assesses different energy-carriers. In addition, they are collaborating in research projects proving upscaled fuel cell technologies. Betting on one fuel now is too risky for potential newbuilds.
“Zero emission is not about technology; it is about fuel infrastructure – and that is out of our control. Our next newbuilds will sail in 2050 and we need to ensure they have zero emission capability. Fuel flexibility is key, and research is ongoing both within fuel cells and combustion engines”, said Technology director Erik Hjortland from Odfjell.
Wilhelmsen presented the newly launched HyShip-project in which the Topeka vessels will create a significant shift in cargo mobility. Wilhelmsen plans to build two ships operating a route between the offshore bases from Bergen to Stavanger. It will also distribute hydrogen to bunkering stations and thus represents the first step towards a hydrogen infrastructure along the Norwegian coastline.
This EU-funded research project is part of a strategic business plan for the shipowner. Wilhelmsen believes hydrogen will be part of the solution of the future and the infrastructure will expand globally in combination with the increasing demands from land-based users.
Why not just go for nuclear? It’s political
Global Head of Risk Management at Lloyd’s Register, Vince Jenkins, gave an interesting insight into the background on the potential of nuclear power in maritime sector. 700 reactors have served at sea since 1955 and 100 are operating today. It is an existing technology that is well proven in the maritime industry. Recently, it was also announced that Bill Gates have joined a new venture working with getting ships powered by nuclear energy.
Nuclear power has zero emission and is the only proven fuel today that can replace fossil fuels in all marine applications. With the use of a thorium molten salt reactor there will be no need to refuel in 30 years.
When it comes to the potential business models, essential aspects need to be developed further, such as refuelling facilities, assessment of total life costs, insurance, structures for distributing fuel costs, and solutions for waste storage.
And, not least, there is one major challenge: The public perception issue, which Mr. Jenkins stated must be addressed through international regulations. E.g. what should be the rules when a nuclear-powered ship sail into another country’s water? The maritime nuclear power is first and foremost a high-level political topic.
Collaboration towards zero emissions
The Deep Sea-project is a collaboration between Maritime Bergen and NCE Maritime CleanTech and is supported by Vestland County Council and Sparebanken Vest.
The aim is to map the status of different technologies, technology gaps and opportunities for demonstrating new solutions that will allow the deep sea sector to meet stricter regulations in the coming years.