Experts tackle issues surrounding the adoption of zero-emissions fuels, refuelling technologies and the infrastructure necessary to support it all
Meeting IMO’s greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction targets in 2030 and 2050 will require widespread commercial availability of low-carbon fuels, and answers to questions surrounding financing, technology, operation and regulation of their use. The road to shipping’s decarbonisation is paved with challenges.
“The uptake of these different fuels will take some time,” said Wärtsilä general manager R&D and concepts Ingve Sorfonn. Speaking at Riviera Maritime Media’s Infrastructure and charging requirements
for hybrid, electric and fuel-cell vessels webinar held in June, sponsored by Wärtsilä, Mr Sorfonn said cost and time to build capacity were creating uncertainty around the uptake of green fuels. To make them available at scale will require the use of renewable power or carbon capture and storage (CCS) technologies. “We need a substantial amount of renewable electricity to produce these new fuels or directly charge vessels,” he pointed out, noting, “And, of course, marine is one of many industries that will need renewable power” in the clean energy transition.
IMO proposes cutting GHG emissions by at least 50% by 2050 and eliminating them altogether before the next century. IMO aims to reduce the carbon intensity of international shipping by at least 40% by 2030 and to pursue efforts to reduce emissions 70% by 2050 compared to 2008.
When selecting green fuels, safety and efficient energy storage and ‘well-to-wake’ efficiency will be weighed by shipowners before making a decision, pointed out Mr Sorfonn.
Wärtsilä is developing fuel-flexible combustion engines to handle carbon-free fuels such as hydrogen and ammonia. What is challenging about these fuels is that they have vastly different combustion characteristics, energy densities and safety issues than traditional marine fossil fuels.
Full-scale tests on an engine running on a fuel containing 70% ammonia were “very encouraging” said Wärtsilä. It expects to have an ammonia-blend engine available for the marine market in 2021.
Energy as a service
As for electricity, shore power is becoming available in ports, but fast-charging technology must be standardised and automated, Mr Sorfonn said.
With the transition to green fuels, Mr Sorfonn envisions new business models will emerge, offering “energy as a service”. These new business models might take the form of ships swapping containerised energy storage systems (ESS) at ports. This will require the industry to address standardisation of ESS modules and their availability at ports.
The world’s largest bunkering ports are taking a multi-fuel approach, offering flexibility in fuels, he said.
A good example is Singapore, which is growing its LNG infrastructure, electrifying its harbour craft, adding shore-power charging, testing methanol fuelling and exploring ammonia, hydrogen and carbon capture.
“Ports play an important role in reducing the environmental impact of shipping,” said Ports of Stockholm chief executive Thomas Andersson during the discussion. Mr Andersson shared Stockholm’s shore-power experiences as one of the busiest passenger ports in the world. He acknowledged it was “costly” to support electrification, battery charging and bunkering of sustainable fuels, but was fully committed to the effort to sustainability.
“We believe that the use of onshore power supply is the most effective way to decrease emissions from our vessels in the port areas and that’s of course particularly important when you operate from the city centre,” said Mr Andersson.
The Ports of Stockholm has been in the forefront of port electrification, working with onshore power supply (OPS) since the 1980s, explained Mr Andersson. OPS is a pivotal component in its plans to reduce GHG emissions from its quays by 25% by 2025.
“We need a substantial amount of renewable electricity to produce these new fuels”
Working with Swedish ferry line Destination Gotland, the Ports of Stockholm inaugurated a new shore-power connection in the Port of Nynäshamn in July. The investment amounts to just over Sek8M (US$918,000). Additionally, since 2020, Destination Gotland’s ferries can bunker LNG and biogas at the port.
EU-back projects will allow cruise ships calling at the port to connect to shore power in 2023 and 2024.
“We believe that ports can be nodes for sustainable transport and energy use,” said Mr Andersson. However, he warned of a looming problem for every port and power grid: “Electricity is in high demand, and we need to find a good way to supply this demand.”
Addressing the demand for zero-carbon fuels, fellow panellist HYEX Safety founder Olav Roald Hansen highlighted several ongoing projects underway in Norway involving the production of green and blue ammonia and hydrogen – much of it destined to bunker vessels.
“One very interesting tender coming up is for (the route) Bodø-Moskenes – very far north in Norway. It’s a three-hour open stretch with two ferries that will operate all year round in any weather; it’s a real challenge,” said Mr Hansen. The tender is due in October.
Zero-emission fuels like hydrogen and ammonia are low flashpoint fuels and regulated by the IMO International Code for Safety of Ships using Gases (IGF code). The IGF code requires a risk assessment to be performed, including an explosion assessment, to demonstrate that risks are equivalent to those of conventionally-fuelled vessels.
“For hydrogen, there is no standard yet on this, and our authorities in Norway require us to use the LNG (ISO 2519) standard when we do the bunkering assessment for liquid hydrogen,” said Mr Hansen. He believes this same standard can also be applied when performing a bunkering assessment for ammonia.
Zero Emissions Industries lead engineer Danny Terlip highlighted some of the benefits and challenges of using hydrogen in marine applications, based on the firm’s own vessel-development experience. California-based Zero Emissions Industries (formerly Golden Gate Zero Emissions Marine) is completing the hydrogen-powered passenger vessel Sea Change (ex Water-Go-Round) at All American Marine in Bellingham, Washington.
When comparing refuelling with hydrogen versus recharging a vessel with current charging technologies, Mr Terlip said: “We’re seeing much faster refuel times for hydrogen.” As an example, he cited a 500-kWh storage tank. Using EV DC Fast (50-350 kW)-level charging, it would require about 85 minutes to recharge the tank. By comparison, using hydrogen, it would take about four minutes.
“Hydrogen sounds great right? Well…” cautioned Mr Terlip, “there are advantages and challenges to hydrogen, as there are with any technology.”
He enumerated four key advantages and four key challenges with hydrogen. Among hydrogen’s advantages are: it’s very light and not ‘spillable’; it can be compressed or liquefied for high energy density; new technology incorporates intelligent and safe systems; and hydrogen is a zero-emissions fuel and can be produced with renewable energy.
On the downside, Mr Terlip said the challenges with hydrogen are: there is limited experience with hydrogen technology; it has limited availability; components that enable hydrogen use are complex and expensive; and safety regulations are undergoing a steep learning curve.
One struggle he noted was that hydrogen fuel technologies “aren’t necessarily commercial off the shelf”. Zero Emissions Industries sees this as an opportunity to develop new technologies for the sector.
In the case of Sea Change, Zero Emissions Industries developed a bespoke bunkering solution that is entirely contained onboard the vessel to allow it to refuel with hydrogen at any port, once a fuel agreement is in place. The vessel is fitted with compressed hydrogen fuel storage tanks on its top deck. “This is a very customised solution…built in a machine shop by hand. It supports all of the different pressure-level changes, safeties and monitoring that it takes to refuel these tanks from a shore-side bunkering solution,” said Mr Terlip.