Wartsila: No Alternative Fuels Clear Winner In Global Shipping

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  • The lack of infrastructure and insufficient supplies have hampered the adoption of sustainable fuels.
  • Hydrogen supply, particularly blue and green versions, are expected to be ramped up only around 2026-2030 as projects in the Middle East, Australia and America commence operations, said Verma.
  • Both green methanol and green ammonia require renewable hydrogen for production.

The shipping industry has been hedging its bet on ammonia, methanol and hydrogen as alternative marine fuels, however, a clear winner has yet to emerge, reports Platts quoting Wartsila’s director of decarbonization solutions Sanjay Verma.

Dual fueled vessels powered by LNG, methanol or ammonia are being ordered by various shipping companies as a way of hedging their bet in the emerging world of low carbon fuel. No one really knows at this time, which fuel will dominate,” he said.

Biobunkers as an interim fuel

The lack of infrastructure and insufficient supplies have hampered the adoption of sustainable fuels. Hydrogen supply, particularly blue and green versions, are expected to be ramped up only around 2026-2030 as projects in the Middle East, Australia and America commence operations, said Verma.

Both green methanol and green ammonia require renewable hydrogen for production.

Verma expects methanol-powered vessels to take the lead initially followed by ammonia-fueled ships. He views biobunkers as an interim fuel, a solution for the older fleet where fuel conversion is not economically feasible.

Methanol vessels are favored by some shippers due to the lower toxicity and ease of storage versus ammonia. In addition, the International Maritime Organization has issued guidelines on the use of methanol as a fuel, he said. However, e-methanol produced from renewable electricity, or any type of low carbon methanol, is widely regarded as more expensive than green ammonia.

Platts, part of S&P Global Commodity Insights, assessed FOB Shanghai eMethanol at $1,928.769/mt on June 20, up $4.006/mt on the day. “Alternative fuels are currently expensive, which will lead to slow adoption until supply increases and prices decrease. Additionally, vessels built for a 20-30 year lifespan will continue to be used until more dual-fuel vessels come online,” said Verma.

Awaiting clarity

Ammonia will take off once sufficient vessels are built and safety issues are settled, and supply is adequate, said market sources. Many shipowners have been postponing investment decisions until clarity over the regulatory environment for international shipping emerges, they said.

The Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) is pushing ahead with plans to accelerate the adoption of both methanol and ammonia.

At the Singapore Maritime Week on April 17, MPA said to open license applications for the maritime supply of methanol by end-2024 and select a lead developer to provide low- or zero-carbon ammonia for power generation and bunkering on Jurong Island.

In addition, shipping companies with intentions to transport ammonia, or which are already transporting ammonia, to participate in an open non-binding request for information.

Verma expects hydrogen to initially play a role in harbor craft and inland ferries. Currently, hydrogen storage and transportation pose significant challenges, making it difficult to equip large ocean-going ships for long voyages.

The low volumetric energy density, coupled with the super cryogenic nature of liquid hydrogen, presents significant challenges as a fuel for the shipping industry. Wartsila is developing technical concepts for hydrogen engines, initially targeting land-based power plants within its Energy business.

The IMO’s Marine Environment Protection Committee is due to approve the mid-term GHG reduction measures in the spring of 2025.

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Source: S&P Global