A new ‘plug-and-play’ exhaust gas purification system promises to significantly cut GHG emissions from both conventional and future fuels
Shipping’s biggest challenge – routing out half its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2050 and decarbonising completely within this century – demands unprecedented levels of industry collaboration and technological advancement, backed by billions of dollars of investment. Choosing the right path to decarbonisation will be challenging and costly as there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution. How can a shipowner future-proof its investment in a multi-fuel future?
“We believe that a mix between regulatory landscape (regulations today and upcoming), financial and market aspects are key considerations for a shipowner when selecting the right path,” Daphne Technology chief executive Mario Michan tells Marine Propulsion.
Dr Michan holds a PhD in Physics from The University of British Columbia, was a merchant ship deck officer and engineer, and an officer in the Colombian Navy; he is also the founder of the Swiss climate change technology startup, which was spun off from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in 2017 and sponsored by Saudi Aramco.
Backed with a €2.5M (US$3M) grant from the EU’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme, Daphne developed SulPure, an exhaust gas purification system that removes SOx and NOx for ships operating on heavy fuel oil (HFO). It is seeking to raise additional capital through Crowdcube, a crowdfunding mechanism, to bolster the commercialisation of its disruptive technology, the universal green converter – a single ‘plug-and-play’ exhaust gas cleaning system that can remove pollutants from emissions from ships operating on HFO, LNG and even future fuels, such as ammonia and hydrogen.
“Compliance requires taking active measures and investing in equipment, improved vessel designs, and improved operations,” says Dr Michan. “Fuel transition into alternative fuels with lower carbon impact is happening as a result of these regulations. Furthermore, the goals are for GHG reduction (not only CO2), meaning regulations are being translated into CO2e factors that affect all climate pollutants. Today, many shipowners want to be ahead of regulations to give them an advantage over the competition.”
For those sustainability frontrunners, there are financial incentives, he points out.
“The EU taxonomy for sustainable activities and the Poseidon Principles limit the funding to non-sustainable vessels and increase the available funding for the green fleet. Most of the main banks providing financing to the maritime industry are signatories of the Poseidon Principles. That translates into better rates for companies with vessels that invest in reducing their environmental footprint,” he says.
Besides these financial pressures, shipowners are faced with market forces, driven by some of the largest charterers in the world that are signatories to the Sea Cargo Charter. These charterers are requiring more transparency through environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) reporting.
“NOx is indirectly intensifying global warming and needs to be prioritised”
Dr Michan says many of these charterers have additional decarbonisation goals and requirements in their scope 3 emissions. “21% of the largest 2,000 public companies (representing US$14Tn in revenue) have net-zero commitments. This is only possible with a significant reduction in emissions by the ships that transport their goods,” he says.
Additionally, it is looking more and more likely that shipowners will face some form of carbon pricing and emission trading schemes, providing further motivation to voluntarily reduce emissions, generating offsets that can be traded.
Still, he points out that there is no silver-bullet solution, as every fuel produces some emissions in the combustion process. “LNG engines emit CO2, CH4 and NOx,” he says. While even future fuels ammonia and hydrogen have a dirty secret. “Ammonia combustion – perhaps the first carbon-free fuel to be used widely in the industry – produces N2O, a very powerful GHG, about 298 times more potent than CO2, and very likely NH3 slip,” says Dr Michan. “Even hydrogen combustion produces significant NOx. NOx in the atmosphere not only returns to land and ocean in the form of HNO3/NO3, but it also results in net ozone formation. Since tropospheric ozone can absorb infrared radiation, NOx is indirectly intensifying global warming and needs to be prioritised.”
Single solution for pollutants
Dr Michan says Daphne’s universal green converter is perhaps the world’s first technology to provide a single solution for all forms of pollutant emissions in flue gas: SOx, NOx, CH4, N2O, HN3 and CO2. He says the CO2 solution is still in very early stages but has shown “very promising results.” Test results have shown the universal green converter can reduce 99% SOx, 99% PM and 85% NOx. Preliminary results have shown removals up to 90% for CH4 and promising N2O, NH3 and CO2 results.
He explains: “Our CO2 programmme has two aspects: firstly, our converter enables carbon capture and storage (CCS) technologies to be used efficiently upstream as we eliminate all the additional pollutants; secondly, our converter reduces the CO2 produced by ignition fuels such as in ammonia or in hydrogen/diesel engines.” He says the solution is suitable for marine applications because it requires minimal storage.
What’s notable about the universal green converter is that it simultaneously converts SOx and NOx pollutants (generated from burning HFO) to intermediate species that react with ammonia to produce ammonium sulfate and nitrate salts, which is an agricultural fertiliser. “The reactions in the converter, combined with our careful consideration of available chemical pathways, enable the transformation of waste into value,” he says.
He says Daphne’s core universal green technology is designed to adapt to today’s fuels or any other future fuel and tackle many emissions. “Even for carbon-free fuels such as ammonia and hydrogen, we can make sure the emissions of toxic and climate pollutants such as ammonia slip, N2O and NOx are minimised and below regulatory limits at optimal cost,” he says. Equipped with artificial intelligence capabilities, the universal converter adapts to engine-specific operating characteristics and emission profiles. This enables it to capture trends or insights into how the crew operates the engine, says Dr Michan. “As our system ‘learns’ and improves over time, it will recommend the optimal voyage-specific operating parameters to the crew to minimise toxic pollutant and CO2e emissions while saving fuel costs.”
CCS pilot project
Through the Green Shipping Programme, Daphne is working with Altera Infrastructure, Equinor, Total, Moss Maritime, Wärtsilä, Brevik Engineering, DFDS, Norsea Group, the Norwegian Maritime Directorate and DNV on a pilot project investigating the technical and economic scope of CCS on ships. Plans call for the installation of a CCS onboard one of Altera’s tankers. “The system must be scalable and can be used for vessels of different sizes that use different types of gas or oil products for propulsion,” says Dr Machan.
CCS could be a valuable bridging technology between fossil fuels and lower carbon and carbon-neutral fuels. The pilot project will examine technology, costs, energy consumption, and space requirements for storage of CO2 on board the ship.
Other unanswered questions that need to be addressed are how ‘captured’ CO2 should be handled after unloading from the ship, and how onshore infrastructure and infrastructure related to final storage should be maintained? The pilot project is currently on hold but will restart later this year, or in early 2022.