Analyzing The Ecological Impact Of Ammonia As a Shipping Fuel

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Credit: Marek Okon/ Unsplash
  • Joint study by LR, EDF, and Ricardo was conducted to study the impact of ammonia as a shipping fuel.
  • It examined the potential marine environmental impacts of ammonia spills.
  • Found that ammonia spills  could negatively impact certain habitats and species more than others.

Ammonia generated from renewable energy is considered a sustainable alternative to fossil fuels as the shipping industry decarbonizer. The study, which used extensive modeling due to the scarcity of real-world data, focuses specifically on the impacts of large ammonia fuel spill scenarios on marine habitats.

Potential Effects

Potential effects on aquatic environments and associated ecological receptors were assessed in scenarios if a spill were to occur during bunkering, or in the case of a ship’s collision and sinking. In addition, possible mitigation measures and specific spill management practices for these scenarios were modeled and studied. “The shipping industry must make a rapid energy transition to address the climate emergency…” said Marie Hubatova, Director of Global Shipping for EDF’s Global Transport team.

The study examined potential ammonia fuel spills during bunkering and collision scenarios, under a variety of conditions, including time of day, temperature, humidity and solar radiation. The outputs were tested across eight habitats (rivers, estuaries, wetlands, coastal waters, coral reefs, mangroves, polar regions and the deep sea) using multiple ecological receptors. The study found that estuaries, mangroves and wetlands are particularly sensitive to potential ammonia fuel spills compared to the polar regions and the deep sea. 

Lauren Dawson, Senior Consultant, Water and Environment Practice, Ricardo, said: “Examining the impact of ammonia is a challenge because of the vast conditions a ship might face while at sea or even when bunkered. Critical factors to consider include the various ship and storage types, the underlying principles which determine the fate of ammonia in the environment, and the diversity of aquatic habitats and species that could be affected…”

Comparing Results

The results were then compared to previously studied habitat and species sensitivity to conventional oil-based fuels. Overall, an ammonia spill has a relatively smaller dispersion distance and lower persistence within the environment when compared to heavy fuel oil (HFO) and marine gas oil (MGO). Existing reports show that oil-based fuels have higher impacts on invertebrates and birds, compared with ammonia. Ammonia has a medium impact on all other ecological receptors, except bacteria. 

While the maritime industry has prior experience with ammonia transported in gas carriers and used as refrigerant, the introduction of ammonia as a shipping fuel creates new challenges related to safe bunkering, storage, supply and consumption for different ship types. “There are many questions around the use of ammonia as a shipping fuel…” said Andy Franks, Senior Risk Specialist, LR Maritime Decarbonization Hub.

This study presents a first look at ammonia’s potential ecological impacts as a fuel. Further research is needed to evaluate the full range of ecological and health implications. Depending upon its safety, ammonia produced with renewable energy is already projected as one of the possible main future fuels of shipping. It is estimated that maritime shipping emits approximately 1,056 million tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) per annum and is responsible for nearly 3% of global greenhouse gas emissions.

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Source: LR

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