The start of 2021 will be remembered by large tanker owner and operators as the first step on the pathway from carbon transition fuel, LNG, to a zero-carbon future
In the journey from heavy fuel oil to a zero-carbon fuel, LNG is widely seen as a transition fuel. The LNG-dual fuel large tanker fleet of mainly VLCC and Suezmax newbuildings is growing, but there is always the worry that within a decade these might become stranded assets when newer newbuildings adopt a zero-carbon fuel. But what will that fuel be?
In January 2021, Avin International of Greece and Euronav of Belgium both ordered Suezmax tankers with class society notation for ammonia power. This includes the adaptation of the structure at the newbuilding stage for the ammonia fuel system. It is not hyperbole to say that this is the sign many owners and operators of large tankers have been waiting for.
Avin International is a privately-owned company and does not have to justify its actions in the same way that Euronav’s management must report to a wide range of investors. Euronav has a good track record on fuel decisions; its option to use an ULCC to store large quantities of fuel before the IMO 2020 low-sulphur fuel oil transition came into effect on 1 January 2020 has paid dividends.
“Ammonia is the most promising hydrogen carrier and zero-carbon shipping fuel,” said Yara’s president and chief executive officer Svein Tore Holsether. Yara is investing heavily in ammonia as the driver in the so-called hydrogen economy. Unlike hydrogen, ammonia does not require cooling to extreme temperatures, and has a higher energy density than liquid hydrogen, making it more efficient to transport and store.
“Ammonia is the most promising hydrogen carrier and zero-carbon shipping fuel”
In parallel to the emergence of ammonia as a leading post-LNG fuel is the establishment of credible rotor sails and wings to provide propulsion assistance. Maersk Tankers was an early mover in this regard, fitting Norsepower rotor sails to Maersk Pelican; major cargo owner and tanker operator Cargill is also working with BAR Technologies on the wing sail concept.
Air lubrication to reduce hull resistance is another much vaunted technology to help reduce emissions, as is solid oxide fuel-cell technology. ABS has granted an approval in principle to a solid oxide fuel-cell technology system developed by South Korea’s Daewoo Shipbuilding & Marine Engineering which could replace one of the gensets on VLCCs.
Elsewhere, we are seeing developments in soft technology for voyage, vessel and fleet optimisation.
Only a year ago, the ability of the shipping industry to transition from high-sulphur fuel was being called into question and zero carbon seemed unworkable. Now there is a clearer picture of the decarbonisation transition strategy for large tankers: LNG dual-fuelled and ammonia ready, with rotor- or solid sail-assisted propulsion, optimised propeller and air lubrication, shore-side power for cargo operations, and fully integrated, optimised voyage and vessel management.