Wärtsilä has initiated combustion trials using ammonia to test its properties as a fuel, in part to support the development of a zero-emissions, fuel cell-powered platform supply vessel
The Finnish marine equipment and technology provider is using the research to develop a complete fuel solution comprising engines, fuel supply and storage for ammonia.
As part of the tests, ammonia was injected into a combustion research unit to better understand its properties. Based on initial results, Wärtsilä will continue testing ammonia in both dual-fuel and spark-ignited gas engines. These will be followed by testing aboard vessels in collaboration with shipowners from 2022, and potentially also with energy customers in the future.
“The first tests have yielded promising results and we will continue to optimise combustion parameters,” said Wärtsilä Marine general manager, fuel and operational flexibility Kaj Portin. “This is an important step in making sure that Wärtsilä can provide the engine and fuel systems that shipowners need, whichever fuel they choose in the future.”
One of the vessel owners that will be working with Wärtsilä is Norway’s Eidsevik Offshore, which will install ammonia fuel cells in its platform supply vessel Viking Energy in 2023. Wärtsilä will supply the vessel’s ammonia storage and supply systems.
Wärtsilä has additional experience with ammonia from designing cargo handling systems for liquid petroleum gas carriers, many of which are used to transport ammonia.
Ammonia is a promising, carbon-free fuel as shipping explores how to meet IMO’s intention of reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from shipping by at least 50% by 2050. Although ammonia is derived mainly from fossil sources today, in the future ammonia’s GHG footprint can be nearly eliminated if it is produced using electricity from renewable sources.
While ammonia is promising as an alternative to carbon-intensive fossil fuels, it comes with challenges. Ammonia ignites and burns poorly compared to other fuels and is toxic and corrosive, making safe handling and storage important. Burning ammonia could also lead to higher NOx emissions unless controlled either by after-treatment or by optimising the combustion process. A regulatory framework and class rules will need to be developed for its use as a marine fuel.
Beyond ammonia, Wärtsilä is investigating several alternatives to traditional bunker fuels, including synthetic methane, hydrogen and methanol, with a view to providing complete flexibility across engines and the fuel chain. Internal combustion engines can be adapted to burn any fuel. Dual-fuel or spark-ignited engines are already capable of burning liquified natural gas – from fossil, biomass or synthetic sources – while diesel engines can run on liquid biofuels, biodiesel or e-diesel.
Wärtsilä has extensive experience in converting engines to other fuels, including diesel to dual-fuel, as well as engines capable of burning methanol and volatile organic compounds from crude oil cargoes. The modularity of modern engines means that conversions can be made with a very limited exchange of components.