Waiting for future fuels and not fully utilising LNG, which is safe, proven, competitive and available today, is a mistake
We need to take advantage today of the confirmed reduction in greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) of up to 23% (well-to-wake) and the air quality benefits of LNG as a maritime fuel. To continue to wait for unproven alternatives only makes the current GHG and local emissions problems worse.
The World Bank’s recent report, The Role of LNG in the Transition Toward Low- and Zero-Carbon Shipping, attempts to prescribe solutions and predict the timing of future technology development. SEA-LNG believes strongly that the transition to future fuels must not follow this prescriptive approach. It is far too early to decide what the real potential of various alternative fuels will be for such a highly complex, hard-to-abate, global industry.
Theoretical arguments are an important starting position, but the 50-plus years of proven, safe operational experience that the industry has with LNG speaks for itself. Further, bio and synthetic LNG offer an incremental pathway for the decarbonisation of the global shipping industry – one that is already being implemented by a growing number of shipowners. The existing LNG infrastructure is being used today and is interchangeable with its bio and synthetic cousins, thereby providing a low risk, long-term decarbonisation alternative.
By focusing on theoretical, unproven solutions, the World Bank stifles innovation in technologies that can also provide answers in the decades ahead. We strongly encourage all institutions around the globe that have a place in the policy debate to set standards and targets that drive real and immediate reductions in GHG emissions, not prescribe specific technology solutions that are untried and unproven in the real world.
To suggest that investments not be made in the LNG sector is unwise, will prolong the use of higher-emissions fuels and slow down shipping’s decarbonisation.
Technologies are constantly evolving, and it is essential to use up-to-date data when evaluating different propulsion alternatives for the maritime sector. Based on the primary data and methodology of SEA-LNG’s latest research, we are unequivocally confident that Sphera’s 2nd Lifecycle GHG Emission Study on the use of LNG as a Marine Fuel is the definitive study on the essential role that LNG has to play in shipping’s pathway to decarbonisation. This is based on the latest primary data, assessing all major types of marine engines and global sources of supply, follows ISO standards and is peer reviewed by neutral academics. This is in contrast to some of the studies the World Bank cites which are based on out-of-date technologies used in niche maritime operations.
The SEA-LNG study, published last week, shows that LNG as a marine fuel provides GHG benefits of up to 23% on a well-to-wake basis and up to 30% on a tank-to-wake basis compared with current oil-based marine fuels.
While methane slip is an issue that needs to be addressed, its effect must be quantified using up-to-date and accurate information. Using current engine information, as the SEA-LNG study does, shows that methane slip does not impact LNG’s GHG reduction potential to the extent the World Bank report claims. LNG engine solutions are already in use today with minimal methane slip. Manufacturers are on a pathway to continue to reduce methane slip even further through measures which include design changes, and the implementation of advanced combustion algorithms. LNG-fuelled vessels being built today have much lower levels of methane slip than what is often cited in academic studies, including the IMO 4th GHG study. Based on outdated data, methane slip has become an overused argument for those wishing to justify inaction.
The World Bank report also fails to acknowledge the rapid acceleration in the availability of bio-LNG. The European Biogas Association expects a ten-fold increase in Europe by 2030 and according to a study by the International Energy Agency (IEA), every part of the world has significant scope to produce biogas and/or biomethane, the gaseous form of bio-LNG. The 2020 bio and synthetic fuels study by CE Delft highlights that large-scale bio-LNG supplies produced from sustainable biomass resources could be available in the 2030s, presenting the maritime sector with a safe and scalable alternative fuel.
While highlighting green ammonia and hydrogen as the only viable future fuels, the World Bank report fails to mention the major challenges associated with these fuels. Considerable research and development as well as extensive operational testing are still needed. Major technological and regulatory hurdles need to be overcome before ammonia and hydrogen can be safely used as fuels in the marine environment. Investment cases will be hindered by the low energy density of these fuels. The massive investments that will be required in new infrastructure will have to be co-ordinated with shipowners and other stakeholders. The World Bank’s untested theoretical approach risks delaying the shipping industry’s decarbonisation and at worst it can lead the industry down a technology cul-de-sac.
The global health benefits resulting from the use of LNG as a marine fuel are well known and accepted. LNG-fuelled vessels emit virtually no SOx while dramatically limiting emissions of NOx. It also virtually eliminates particulate matter, including black carbon or soot, which while not yet regulated, is an environmental concern. We should not miss this opportunity, especially in developing economies where air pollution is a significant and growing problem.
By investing in LNG dual-fuelled vessels, the shipping industry begins the decarbonisation process now. This creates a direct pathway to significantly lower carbon emissions and facilitates the introduction of zero-carbon alternative fuels as and when they become commercially and operationally viable.
SEA-LNG encourages informed debate of future fuels. It is important however, to base this debate on objective, up-to-date lifecycle analysis and recognise that we need to start with proven technologies, not future concepts that are currently no more than wishful thinking.