Faced with confusing, costly and multiple fuel options to achieve decarbonisation, many shipowners are sitting on the fence, reports Riviera.
The immediate solution
In the increasingly urgent path to the decarbonisation of shipping, there is no excuse for waiting, according to Steve Esau, the general manager SEA-LNG, a sustainable shipping specialist.
The obvious immediate solution is fossil-derived LNG because it is low risk and available. “You can start the decarbonisation process right now,” he told a Riviera Maritime Media webinar in late May. “In our view, waiting is not an option.”
Meantime, other panellists expressed concerns about the high capital investment required to install emissions-reducing technologies, putting the viability of smaller shipowners and operators under threat.
Entitled Future fuels and technology, plotting a path to decarbonisation, the webinar featured a high-level panel that explored the numerous issues complicating the journey to the industry’s 2050 deadline for zero emissions. Sponsored by Wärtsilä, the event was supported by SEA-LNG and produced as part of Asia Maritime Webinar Week.
Citing the example of an LNG-fuelled 14,000-teu container ship coming into service in 2025, with a 25-year working life and renewable fuels coming on stream around 2030, Mr Esau explained that its lifetime emissions would fall substantially below those of rival fuels.
Although fossil LNG is not the final answer in a sector that has proven one of the most difficult to decarbonise, he emphasised that it provided a vital incremental solution, whose virtues as a fuel had already been proven and that already had a global infrastructure.
However, there was no single solution in a diverse industry accommodating short- and deep-sea shipping. The base requirements for any fuel are energy density, technological maturity and safety, he said. “It needs to be utterly reliable and completely safe for both crew and port communities.”
And so far, LNG leads on all three counts. However, alternative fuels such as ammonia, hydrogen and methanol could be catching up, he explained through an interesting timeline that showed the first two could become commercially available by the latter half of the current decade, while methanol is already in operation, for instance in some ferries and methanol carriers.
“The primary feedstock for all four fuels is natural gas,” he said. “The starting point is fossil. The end point is dependent on sufficient production from renewable electricity.”
Sitting on the fence
Taking a broader view as a shipowner, Jay K Pillai, founder and director of Hong Kong-based JP Maritime, explained that shipowners and operators rely on reliable and cost-efficient solutions being provided by a large and wide-spread shore-based network.
“[They are] fuel suppliers and bunkering infrastructure at major seaports, engine makers and engineering system designers for reliable and user-friendly technologies, ship designers and builders for energy-efficient ships with operational reliability and ease of maintenance,” he said.
The main problem for shipowners was an absence of a clear direction. “[We] need clarity to invest in a new breed of ships with dual-fuel engines with zero-emission fuels, at the latest by 2030 to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050,” he said.
Meantime shipowners and operators are faced with a number of sometimes confusing options and are reluctant to take the plunge. “Retrofitting engines on an existing fleet for future fuels is unlikely,” he said, citing the energy-saving devices and systems that have been tried over the last two decades in the interests of cost efficiencies.
Meantime, underlining the presentation made by Mr Esau, he added that zero-emission fuels and vessels will need to be deployed at scale over the next decade to achieve full decarbonisation of the shipping sector by 2050. However, the dual-fuel engines that are capable of burning future fuels such as green methanol, green ammonia and biofuel are being ordered mainly in the liner sector, which is led by container lines.
“Most shipowners are opting to follow rather than lead in decarbonisation [and] are sitting on the fence, Mr Pillai said. “They want somebody else to try first.”
In a presentation that also highlighted a fast-changing scene for shipowners, Wärtsilä’s Sanjay Verma, general manager for market innovation and marine power, showed how they “need to plan their future fleet against moving targets” by being prepared to invest in emissions-reducing technologies as they went along.
In newbuilds, while focusing on design efficiency, it was important to invest in upgradable assets throughout the vessel’s lifecycle so that, by around 2030, vessels are zero-carbon. In existing ships, he favoured the installation of energy-saving devices and power limiters, while anticipating conversion to an alternative fuel by around 2025.
And echoing other panelists, he warned against adopting a one-size-fits-all approach. “Design and operational efficiency are both important,” he said. “Decarbonisation is a journey. It’s not about a single solution.”
Bringing the discussion down to the bottom line, Sudhir Bhimani, group environmental compliance director of ship management group Anglo-Eastern, said the key factor in the entire debate is the vessel’s commercial viability. He highlighted the huge additional cost on the industry of complying with IMO and EU regulations, amounting to over US$1Tn a year, assuming ships use the same kind and amount of fuel as they did in 2020.
On the bright side, he explained that Anglo-Eastern, a specialist in smaller-tonnage, is project-managing 32 advanced ammonia-ready vessels. Some designs had lost nothing in cargo volume because of the fuel tanks. Meantime, the group is working on a concept for an 82,000- to 90,000-dwt bulk carrier that will surely attract attention.
Ultimately, the panelists agreed, every ship is unique, and its fuel should be chosen according to its operational role throughout its life cycle.
Whatever solutions are adopted, it is vital that the welfare of the crew should be put at the forefront of all decisions, urged JP Maritime’s Mr Pillai: “A people-centred approach is essential [and the technologies] must be less reliant on seafarers so they are not overburdened.”
Ships should be designed, built and equipped with the safety of the crew and operational efficiency in mind. [“We must] invest heavily in training crew for this challenging transition [and] mitigate risks,” he said.
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