A test engine four storeys high, with four giant pistons, may hold the potential to transform the shipping industry and the global supply chains that rely on it.
“We are taking an internal combustion engine and we are changing it,” said Brian Østergaard Sørensen, head of research and development at MAN Energy Solutions, while standing in a research lab outside Copenhagen, Denmark .
MAN Energy Solutions is one of the world’s foremost designers of commercial ship engines. At the Copenhagen test site, Sørensen’s team is experimenting with different carbon-neutral and carbon-free fuels to see how effective they can be at generating the immense horsepower necessary to move container ships and bulk carriers across the world’s oceans.
The shipping industry is responsible for three per cent of all global greenhouse gas emissions — an amount equivalent to what Germany emits every year. But across the globe, 99 per cent of shipping is currently powered by burning fossil fuels, such as bunker fuel and marine diesel.
“We actually need to look at ways to rebuild existing ships,” said Sørensen.
The upcoming COP27 gathering in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt, which runs Nov. 6 to 18, is expected to zero in on the decarbonizing challenges facing the shipping industry far more prominently than in the past. It’s expected the entire sector will be encouraged, pushed and even cajoled into setting a more ambitious timeline to decarbonize, and lay out targets to hit along the way.
“We are looking at a difficult transition [to cleaner fuels], but there is a willingness to do this,” said Sørensen. “For us, the payoff is that our technology will be future-proof.”
Investigating green fuels
In another part of MAN’s lab, senior research engineer Julia Svensson examines vials with clear liquids representing some of the green fuels that will jostle for eventual industry supremacy.
Bio-methanol — which can be synthesized from any large biomass, such as crops — is a leading contender.
“Bio-methanol is up and coming, and I think it’s where we should go if we really want to go green,” said Svensson.
Ammonia, which may be somewhat cheaper to produce than methanol, is another contender.
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