Skip to main content
Related News

Shipping looks to hydrogen as it seeks to ditch bunker fuel

By April 24, 2021January 4th, 2022No Comments

News Stories

Shipping looks to hydrogen as it seeks to ditch bunker fuel

Apr 24, 2021 • Financial Times

Discord within oil-reliant industry over how to power the workhorses of global trade in the net zero era

Shipping produces about 3% of global greenhouse gas emissions and without action its contribution is likely to rise for decades as global trade grows. The International Maritime Organization, the UN agency that regulates the global industry, wants to at least halve its impact by 2050.

Many industry figures are pinning their hopes on blue or green hydrogen — produced using natural gas with carbon capture or renewable electricity and whose only byproduct when combusted is water — to help steer away from polluting bunker fuel.

While pilot projects prove that hydrogen is viable at small scale on set routes with refuelling infrastructure in place, 85% of the sector’s emissions come from bulk carriers, oil tankers and container ships, according to a 2020 report by Royal Dutch Shell. Nothing can power them as efficiently and cheaply as fossil fuels.

But hydrogen has low energy density compared with heavy fuel oil. Storing it in its liquid form below -253C requires heavy cryogenic tanks that take up precious space, rendering it unfeasible for large cargo ships. “With the current state of technology, we cannot use hydrogen to fuel our vessels,” said Morten Bo Christiansen, head of decarbonisation at AP Moller-Maersk.

However, the industry has grown increasingly optimistic about using ammonia, a compound of hydrogen and nitrogen, to fuel the workhorses of global trade without belching out greenhouse gases. Though foul-smelling and toxic, ammonia is easy to liquefy, is already transported worldwide at scale and has nearly twice the energy density of liquid hydrogen.

Any transition to hydrogen or hydrogen-based fuels is likely to be a lengthy process given the industry’s caution in shifting to a less-polluting fossil fuel. Even now, only 11% of new vessels on order will be primarily powered by liquefied natural gas, according to consultancy Drewry.

Medium-term decarbonisation efforts by the biggest shipping companies are primarily focused on low-carbon synthetic fuels and biofuels. Maersk, which plans to launch its first carbon-neutral vessel in 2023, is backing methanol — either biomethanol derived from waste matter such as wood or e-methanol produced from captured CO2 and green hydrogen. France’s CMA CGM is investing in biomethane. Both are compatible with existing engines.

Read full article on Financial Times (subscription required)