New Emissions Targets May Sink LNG’s Appeal As A Fuel For Ships

Credit: Ti Gong_

The International Maritime Organization has closed a loophole that had been driving an increased interest in using LNG to fuel ships, reports Vancouver Sun.

Emission standards

Earlier this month, the International Maritime Organization finalized stricter global emissions standards for the maritime industry while closing a significant regulatory loophole that had been spurring the use of LNG as a shipping fuel.

LNG has lower CO2 emissions than other fossil fuels used in shipping, but it also emits significant amounts of methane, a short-lived but powerful greenhouse gas responsible for more than 25 per cent of current global warming.

Past emissions rules focused solely on reducing shipping’s CO2 emissions and failed to fully include methane, which makes up 70 to 90 per cent of natural gas.

The International Maritime Organization’s new strategy now considers the full life cycle of shipping fuels and their greenhouse gas emissions.

The new accounting method means LNG can no longer sail under the radar when it comes to emissions, said Elissama Menezes, global campaign director for the Say No to LNG coalition.

“It’s a huge step and quite exciting to see,” Menezes said. “At the end of the day, it really brings some accountability to the shipping sector, which for too many years has not really been responsible for the whole footprint of its emissions.”

The energy sector has aggressively pitched LNG as a bridge fuel until low- or zero-emission alternatives are fully developed.


Compared to heavy fuel oil predominantly used in shipping, LNG emits less carbon dioxide and harmful air pollutants like sulphur, while meeting previous emission standards and being economically attractive to the shipping industry.

Consequently, methane emissions from shipping surged by as much as 155 per cent from 2018 to 2021, according to the Maritime Organization.

“Methane emissions have been growing at a much faster pace than any other greenhouse gas and it’s becoming more of a problem over time,” said Bryan Comer, marine program lead for the International Council on Clean Transportation.

Half of all new cruise ships and a large share of recently built container ships are designed to be fuelled with LNG, he said.

Fugitive emissions, or methane “slip” — during extraction, processing, storage and distribution of the gas, and even gas released unburned from engines — is the Achilles heel of LNG, Comer said.

The amount of methane slip on vessels varies according to the type of engine used. High methane slip engines consumed 40 per cent of LNG marine fuel in 2017, with one of the most common and worst offenders being low-pressure, dual-fuel engines.

Midterm measures

The “well-to-wake” emissions accounting, combined with the Maritime Organization’s plan for midterm measures such as more stringent greenhouse gas fuel emissions standards slated for 2027, will likely increase the uptake of alternative low- or zero-emission fuels and drive down demand for LNG, Comer said.

He noted the European Union is also set to regulate methane as soon as 2025 under new fuel standards aimed at decarbonizing the maritime sector.

The new regulatory measures will require industry spending to improve fuels and engine technology. And all forms of LNG will likely become increasingly impractical as a marine fuel due to the associated costs and uncertainty associated with scaling up bio and renewable gas, which is estimated to be seven times more expensive than fossil-fuel LNG, Comer said.

Other alternatives involving wind, green methanol, hydrogen and ammonia could offer low life cycle emissions without the same methane slip problems, he added.

“It’s not that LNG won’t be allowed, it’s just that the market won’t be as strong as current projections suggest,” Comer said.

“When some of these infrastructure decisions are being made, there are probably better things to spend your money on.”

The Maritime Organization has provided Canada’s fossil fuel industry and the maritime sector with a wake-up call to adapt to a future that doesn’t involve natural gas, said Andrew Dumbrille, Canada campaigner with Say No to LNG.

Canada supported ambitious global greenhouse reduction targets and well-to-wake accounting at the IMO, but continues to buy into domestic LNG fracking projects and building large LNG fuelling depots at home ports, Dumbrille said.

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Source: Vancouver Sun