Ammonia Toxicity in Focus for Shipping Amid Singapore Oil Spill Cleanup

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  • Limited public data on ammonia-sea water interaction
  • Yara kickstarts a project to assess ammonia risks at sea

Ammonia toxicity concerns are in focus after an oil spill incident in June at Singapore’s Pasir Panjang Terminal, as the shipping industry doubles down on cleaner fuels for maritime decarbonization with a keen interest in risk management and preparedness to deal with future bunker spills, reports SP Global.

Ammonia toxicity

Singapore, the world’s largest bunkering hub, is working toward achieving net-zero emissions for the shipping sector by 2050 and expects ammonia to play a crucial role in reducing emissions with the first bunkering expected in its waters earliest from 2026.

Ammonia as a marine fuel offers a significant reduction in CO2 emissions, almost zero sulfur oxide emissions, and similar reductions in nitrogen oxide and particulate matter emissions, according to industry experts.

However, ammonia’s toxicity and corrosiveness have been among the major concerns for bunkering applications on a commercial scale, with public data limited on ammonia, air, and seawater interaction.

Singapore’s Minister for Transport Chee Hong Tat told local media on July 2 that the risks involved in alternative fuels are very different from those in a traditional oil spill and that the government is trying to understand such risks while it develops safety protocols.

A Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore spokesperson told S&P Global Commodity Insights that the agency has developed standard operating procedures for response and conducts regular exercises to respond to oil and chemical spills.

In April, the MPA and the Energy Market Authority of Singapore said that they were reviewing proposals to develop an end-to-end solution to provide low- or zero-carbon ammonia for power generation and bunkering on Jurong Island.

Risk of spills and knowledge gap

Ammonia toxicity was one of the main talking points during the eighth Clean Marine Fuel Forum 2024 held in Singapore in end-June, following the June 14 incident that led to a collision and a ruptured oil tank, releasing about 400 mt of low sulfur fuel into the sea.

Most delegates at the forum told Commodity Insights that they expect ammonia to play an important role in maritime decarbonization despite the toxicity issue, but more preparedness is needed to deal with potential future bunkering spills.

Addressing the concern of a hypothetical ammonia spill, Mark Lee, commercial manager with Yara Clean Ammonia, said that there is a globally recognized knowledge gap around ammonia and seawater interaction that hinders the performance of spill consequence modeling accurately.

Yara in May initiated the ARISE program in collaboration with scientific partners such as CEDRE and INERIS, experimenting with the controlled release of cold ammonia in seawater. The company expects to conduct the project for two years, with the first key milestone anticipated in September 2024.

Professor Lynn Loo, CEO of Singapore-based Global Centre of Maritime Decarbonisation, which has been overseeing the study of ammonia bunkering safety, said that even with decades of experience developing precautionary measures for oil spills, accidents were still happening.

An effective emergency response plan, coupled with the readiness of the crew, port authorities, and first responders, is essential to minimize the impact of a spill, she said.

The GCMD has collaborated with partners to develop a draft emergency response plan for ammonia spills, and the center has identified 400 operational and locational risks for ammonia bunkering in Singapore waters that can be mitigated to reasonably low practicable levels.

Safety standards are expected to play a major role as ammonia as a bunker fuel is expected to be transported at a much greater scale than before, said Allen Chan, director of energy transition advisory at Commodity Insights.

Transportation costs are still a relatively small proportion of clean ammonia costs and given long lead times for clean ammonia supply projects, there is still time to resolve issues around infrastructure and standards, Chan said.

Platts, part of Commodity Insights, assessed the low-carbon Japanese Korean ammonia price at $470/mt on July 2 and Ammonia Energy Substitution Index Japan at $411.62/mt.

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Source: SP Global