Shipping at Risk! Dangerous Properties of Alternative Fuels

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Greener fuels, such as liquefied natural gas, hydrogen and methanol, help reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and limit the exhaust of nitrogen oxides, sulphur oxides and particulate matter that are polluting the environment and affecting our health. But alongside these benefits, they pose new safety concerns – and ones that we need to take seriously,reports The Conversation.

Forced to stop emissions

Most governments agree that the shipping industry must move to greener fuels. Within this context, the UN’s International Maritime Organisation (IMO) has adopted measures to limit harmful pollutants and, most recently, has agreed targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

In 2018, led by new regulation, the government’s coaxing and monetary incentives to ship owners for using alternative fuels is tipping the point for a widespread adoption of green fuel in shipping.

Dangerous to carry onboard

Unfortunately, compared to traditional fuels, greener alternatives have a greater potential to cause major accidents. This is partly because they are less efficient fuels, requiring ships using them to hold greater quantities onboard. But it’s also due to the dangerous properties of these fuels.

Both natural gas and hydrogen need to be stored as liquid at sub-zero temperatures. If these cryogenic liquids are accidentally released they could crack unprotected steel, expand to hundreds of times their original volume and become flammable as they turn back to gas. Of course, this would be a serious problem if it occurred below deck, where ships generally store their fuel. Hydrogen is also the easier to ignite than traditional fuels, while if methanol ignites its flames are almost impossible to detect without specialist equipment.

Crew members at risk

The intrinsically dangerous properties of greener fuels and the need for larger quantities means that the safety risk presented to crew, passengers and others can be very different to that from traditional fuels.

To ensure safety of crew members, different and more sophisticated equipment and safeguards are needed. And also it requires greater knowledge and skill to design, manufacture, inspect, install, commission, survey, operate and maintain.

In case of human error, new and unfamiliar things might happen, and it is with more caution that we must engineer and use these fuels.

Transporting is major concern

But shipping large amounts of LNG in bulk using dedicated cargo ships with a small number of specially trained crew does not compare with using LNG as fuel on a ship holding thousands of passengers.

The societal risks are entirely different and require us to apply different levels of caution. And we know that a reliance on regulation has not prevented major accidents in the offshore oil and gas industry, whose regulation and enforcement is generally more stringent and mature than shipping.

Going Green or harmless

There is no doubt that the shipping industry needs greener fuels to help combat global warming and pollution, but we should not underestimate the hazards and risks that they present. So we need to be cautious and ensure that the safety of greener fuels is prioritised. While we must combat shipping’s contribution to global warming, we have to do so in a way that minimises the potential for major accidents.

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Source: The Conversation

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