The Danish shipping giant will accelerate its decarbonisation efforts, building a carbon-neutral feeder ship powered by renewable methanol starting 2023 and opening the door for others to follow
Those in shipping who haven’t taken methanol seriously soon will, following AP Moller-Maersk’s pioneering plan to use a renewable version of the fuel to power the world’s first carbon-neutral liner by 2023.
“AP Moller-Maersk’s ambition is to lead the way in decarbonising global logistics,” said company chief executive Søren Skou in a press statement. “Our customers expect us to help them decarbonise their global supply chains, and we are embracing the challenge, working on solving the practical, technical and safety challenges inherent in the carbon-neutral fuels we need in the future.”
While few details on the container feeder vessel were revealed, Maersk said it would have a capacity of 2,000 TEUs, be deployed in one of its intra-regional networks, and have dual-fuel technology, with the ability to operate on standard very-low sulphur fuel oil (VLSFO), carbon-neutral e-methanol, or sustainable bio-methanol.
Maersk head of decarbonisation Morten Bo Christiansen told Marine Propulsion the concept design for the vessel was finalised and discussions were underway with equipment suppliers and yards.
By pushing forward its decarbonisation timeline seven years ahead of its target date of 2030, Maersk is making a bold statement. And as part of future-proofing its fleet, Mr Skou said all future Maersk-owned newbuildings in its ongoing fleet renewal programme will have dual-fuel technology, enabling either carbon-neutral operations or operation on VLSFO.
“Our ambition to have a carbon-neutral fleet by 2050 was a moonshot when we announced it in 2018. Today we see it as a challenging, yet achievable target to reach,” said Mr Skou.
A key consideration for any shipping company is what charterers want. Maersk says around half of its 200 largest customers have set – or are in the process of setting – ambitious science-based or zero-carbon targets for their supply chains, and the figure is on the rise.
Mr Christensen noted: “Both the methanol-fueled feeder vessel and the decision to install dual-fuel engines on future newbuildings is part of A. P. Moller-Maersk’s ongoing fleet replacement. Capex implications will be manageable and are included in current guidance.”
Expectations are that the new feeder vessel will require 1,000 tonnes of carbon-neutral fuel per month, according to Mr Christiansen. He sees having enough carbon-neutral methanol available as “the most critical” challenge for the project.
“Customers are setting ambitious zero-carbon targets for their supply chains”
“Decarbonising shipping is definitely mission possible, but it requires collaboration and risk sharing across the value chain,” he said.
“We are working hard to ensure we can run the vessel purely on carbon-neutral bio-methanol from day one. It will be a significant challenge to source an adequate supply of proper carbon-neutral methanol within this timeline (today there is far from enough supply), so we can unfortunately not yet guarantee it. However, we believe this aspiration best kick starts the rapid scaling of carbon-neutral fuels we need from the fuel suppliers, as it creates a real and sizeable demand in the market.” Added Mr Christiansen: “The success of sourcing carbon-neutral fuel relies on the support from our customers to pay a reasonable premium for the products, as well as technology partners, developers, and authorities to ramp up investments, production, and approval processes fast enough.”
Maersk wants to cut 60% relative CO₂ emissions from shipping by 2030, with net zero CO2 emissions by 2050.
Mr Christiansen said Maersk is negotiating with “a bunch” of potential methanol suppliers. “It is crucial to find the right partners who are ready to engage development resources into such a step change of the industry,” he added.
Industry weighs in
Commenting on the announcement, Methanol Institute COO Chris Chatterton, said: “Maersk is once again showing industry leadership in adopting renewable methanol as a key plank in its strategy towards carbon neutrality.” Mr Chatterton added: “Methanol is proven as a clean, efficient and safe marine fuel that offers immediate decarbonisation benefits to vessel operators with substantial net GHG reductions, full compliance with IMO 2020 and a pathway that leads to net carbon neutrality as production of renewable methanol grows.”
Growing interest in the fuel was noted by ABS director, global sustainability Georgios Plevrakis who said: “Methanol is drawing a wider interest from owners of oceangoing vessels, short-sea shippers, ferries, cruises, and inland waterway vessels.”
ABS recently published guidance on Methanol as Marine Fuel, detailing some of the challenges in the design and operation of methanol-fuelled vessels.
“Decarbonising shipping is definitely mission possible, but it requires collaboration and risk sharing”
That interest was noted from polls conducted during Riviera’s Methanol – the simple facts webinar in November. Respondents were very positive on the future of methanol as a marine fuel, both in newbuilds and in conversions. Some 95% thought converting ships to burn methanol was technically feasible, while 64% agreed that it was one of the safest emergent fuels. A chief concern among respondents was the availability of methanol (42%), followed by safety (19%), pricing (17%), emissions (17%) and other factors (6%).
Clean fuels online platform Powerzeek recently began listing methanol alongside LNG in order to meet demand for cleaner fuels in shipping. “They need to be easier to buy to support the industry’s transition towards low-carbon operations,” said Powerzeek chief executive Dag Lilletvedt.
Despite its commitment to methanol, Maersk says it will continue to explore several carbon-neutral fuel pathways and expects multiple fuel solutions to exist alongside each other in the future. Methanol (e-methanol and bio-methanol), alcohol-lignin blends and ammonia remain the primary fuel candidates for the future, according to the Danish shipping company.
Indeed, just days after announcing the methanol-powered newbuild, Maersk said it would collaborate on the establishment of Europe’s largest production facility of green ammonia. Plans for the Power-to-X facility in Esbjerg, Denmark, were unveiled by Danish energy sector fund manager Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners (CIP). Green ammonia would be produced using electrolysis powered by renewable energy from offshore wind turbines. Expectations are that the facility will have a capacity of 1 GW of electrolysis to produce the green ammonia, which will be used by the agricultural sector as green fertiliser and by the shipping industry as a sustainable green fuel.
Joining Maersk in support of the facility from the shipping sector was leading ropax ferry operator DFDS, while the food and agriculture industry was represented by Danish dairy producer Arla, meat processor Danish Crown and crop producer DLG. All signed a memorandum of understanding, committing to working towards realising the establishment of the facility, as well as supporting the offtake of the green ammonia from the facility once it is ready to be delivered to the market.
CIP senior partner Christian Skakkebæk, said Power-to-X solutions are key for the fertiliser and shipping industries “to take the next big leap within decarbonisation.” Mr Skakkebæk oversees CIP’s newly established Energy Transition Fund, which invests in Power-to-X and renewable energy projects.
Providing further impetus for shipping to transition towards methanol as a marine fuel was the adoption of interim guidelines by IMO’s Maritime Safety Committee in November. Besides methanol, the guidelines cover the inclusion and adoption of ethyl and methyl alcohols, fuel cells and low-flashpoint diesel in the IGF Code. Lloyd’s Register and the Methanol Institute issued a bunkering technical reference on methanol in September 2020.