Rushing To Decarbonize: The Shipping Industry’s Exploration Of Alternative Fuels

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  • The shipping industry, responsible for approximately two percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, is under pressure to decarbonize.
  • Heavy fuel oil (HFO), traditionally used to power commercial ships, is being phased out due to its environmental impact.
  • As the International Maritime Organization (IMO) implements new regulations to reduce sulfur and carbon emissions, industry leaders are seeking alternative fuels to meet sustainability goals.

Transition Away from Heavy Fuel Oil

Morten Bo Christiansen, head of the energy transition team at Maersk, acknowledges the urgency to replace HFO with cleaner alternatives. The transition has already begun, with vessels like the Laura Maersk using methanol as a fuel source. Methanol, when sustainably sourced, offers reduced pollution compared to fossil fuels. However, challenges such as limited global availability persist.

Exploring Alternative Fuels

To meet IMO regulations and achieve net-zero emissions by 2050, the shipping industry must explore a variety of alternative fuels. Besides methanol, options include hydrogen, ammonia, electricity, and even nuclear power. Ammonia, although toxic, benefits from an established supply chain and is being considered for its potential as a cleaner fuel.

Challenges and Considerations

Ammonia and other alternative fuels present technical challenges in terms of combustion efficiency and safety. Companies like MAN Energy Solutions are working on developing reliable engines for ammonia-based propulsion. Additionally, the suitability of each fuel depends on factors such as route stability and energy demand.

Hydrogen as a Contender

While hydrogen offers emissions-free combustion, its handling complexities and cost pose significant obstacles. Maersk’s pilot study revealed hydrogen to be more expensive than methanol and ammonia. However, innovative approaches like onboard conversion from ammonia to hydrogen offer promise for zero-emission propulsion.

Holistic Approach to Emissions Reduction

Beyond fuel substitution, the shipping industry must prioritize energy-efficient technologies and regulatory measures. Wind-assisted propulsion and stringent efficiency standards at ports are among the strategies to curb emissions. Collaboration and innovation are essential to meet ambitious decarbonization targets within a tight timeframe.

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Source: National Observer