Future of Maritime Fuels


  • New regulations require maritime operators to report and reduce carbon impact
  • It poses challenges due to increased CAPEX and uncertain earning potential from carbon reduction technology.
  • Stakeholders debate future fuels; methanol for energy density, batteries for toxicity concerns.
  • Success in electrifying vessels, particularly in public transport boats and harbor tugs, with limitations on range and infrastructure.

One challenge is that carbon reduction technology often demands higher capital (CAPEX) and operational (OPEX) expenditures without providing an immediate increase in earning potential. Additionally, the technology is not yet matured in many cases, making it difficult to predict the exact nature of the future maritime energy transition. Exploring all options without expecting a one-size-fits-all solution, focusing on multi-criteria problem-solving. Developing fuel-flexible vessels like Flex Fuel (FF) Tugs, which can transition rapidly between fuels, achieving immediate CO2 and NOX reductions with biofuel and SCR systems.

Things to consider

Joost Mathôt, Director Products Workboats Division at Damen Shipyards Group, acknowledges the challenge of determining the best approach.

“There are diverse opinions regarding the fuels of the future, presenting us, as vessel designers, with a myriad of considerations.”

According to Joost, stakeholders’ varied perspectives lead to different conclusions. “Depending on your viewpoint, you’ll arrive at different choices. If you prioritize energy density, methanol might be your preference. However, if toxicity is your concern, batteries could be more appealing.”

Complexities of Alternative Fuels

No single alternative fuel currently available offers a definitive solution. Additionally, the origin of these fuels raises further questions.

For example, methanol can significantly reduce emissions, but the type of methanol whether gray, blue, or green determines its emissions implications from well-to-wake. Similarly, while the electric operation is often considered zero emissions if the electricity comes from a coal power station, emissions are only shifted from the vessel to the power station.

Damen’s Approach to Sustainability

However, this does not imply that action should be avoided. Damen, with its aim to become the most sustainable maritime solutions provider, is actively pursuing all available avenues. Joost comments, “We’ve become accustomed to the convenience of diesel, which offers high energy density and universal usability. However, future fuels will not possess these characteristics. There won’t be a one-size-fits-all solution. We need to approach this as a multi-faceted issue, with outcomes varying based on the operational context of each vessel.”

Vessel Electrification

Damen has achieved success in electrifying vessels, delivering several fully electric ships and currently constructing more. However, there are limitations to how extensively this can be implemented.

The company’s strategy focuses on electrification where feasible, considering factors such as the availability of sufficient electricity, charging infrastructure, and time for recharging. This approach requires the vessel to remain within a specific area during operation.

As a result, full vessel electrification has primarily been applied to public transport boats like ferries, waterbuses, and harbor tugs. Damen has also introduced a fully electric Service Operations Vessel (SOV) capable of charging from a turbine or substation at an offshore wind farm.

Range concerns

To overcome concerns about the limited range, alternative options must be considered.

The choice depends on various factors such as the operation, vessel type, location, available infrastructure, and the most easily producible fuel type. Damen aims to consider all possibilities and is committed to implementing them within feasible limits, either currently or shortly, based on client demand.

For example, Damen is constructing the Elevation Series of Commissioning Service Operations Vessels (CSOV) for CMB.TECH. These dual-fuel hydrogen-powered vessels, operational from 2025, are designed in collaboration between Damen and its client.

Another example is Damen’s Flex Fuel (FF) Tugs, which are equipped with conventional diesel engines and a fuel preparation space. This design allows for a quick, cost-effective transition to fuels like hydrogen, methanol, or batteries as the feasibility and commercial viability of these options become clearer.


Joost highlights the gains achievable with a fuel-flexible approach. By combining biofuels like HVO with an IMO Tier III compliant SCR system in tugs, CO2 emissions can be reduced by 85-90% and NOX emissions by 80%. Adding a ULEV notation further reduces particulate matter emissions. This approach is currently the most effective solution while awaiting the maturity and wider availability of green fuels.

However, there are challenges. The production limitations of HVO fuel could lead to significant price increases with rising demand, making it a temporary solution. To advance alternative fuel technologies, Joost emphasizes the need for all stakeholders to step forward. This includes incentivizing operators and creating a level playing field through coordinated efforts among regulators, bankers, end users, and port authorities. Designers like Damen also play a crucial role by remaining open to collaboration throughout the system.

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Source: Damen Shipyards


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