A study by A.P. Muller-Maersk and Lloyd’s Register confirmed that the best time to decarbonize the shipping industry is to find new sustainable energy sources. According to market forecasts, the best fuels that can be used to achieve net zero emissions in the shipping industry are alcohol, biomethane and ammonia.
Improving energy efficiency has always been an important way for Maersk to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. Energy efficiency initiatives have made Maersk a leader in emissions reductions, 10% above the industry average. However, if you want to achieve zero net emissions, you need to completely change the ship’s power system, the shipping industry needs to introduce carbon-neutral power fuel and new technology.
Smurren Toft, chief operating officer of AP Muller-Maersk, said: “We must find significant innovative solutions and fuel conversions that will enable the production and distribution of sustainable energy on a global scale. In contrast, the technical changes within the ship are small, so the biggest challenge is not the supply of the sea but the land side. From now on, we need to have a commercially viable zero-emission ship in the next 11 years.”
The cost projections for these three fuels are relatively similar, but the challenges and opportunities are different. Soren Toft pointed out: “It is too early to completely exclude other programs, but we believe that these three fuels are the right way to explore. Therefore, we will put 80% of our energy into the feasibility of this assumption. In research, the remaining 20% is devoted to exploring other options.”
Alastair Marsh, CEO of Lloyd’s Register, said: “The shipping industry is considering a decarbonization program, so the entire industry will need to work together over the next decade and pay close attention to the potential viability of fuels such as alcohol, biomethane and ammonia. Dege’s classification society and Maersk conducted a modeling study to show that shipowners must invest in improving fuel flexibility, and it is clear that this transition brings more operating expenses than capital expenditures.”
Alcohol (ethanol and methanol) is not a highly toxic liquid, but has many possible pathways to produce – compounds derived directly from biomass and/or renewable hydrogen and carbon (carbon derived from biomass or otherwise). Existing solutions to low flash point and alcohol burning problems are already very mature. Ethanol and methanol can be thoroughly mixed in the ship’s fuel tank to increase fuel flexibility and sustainability.
However, the transformation of the shipping industry into alcohol-based ship fuels has yet to be determined. On the other hand, given the existing technology and infrastructure, biomethane has the potential for a smooth transition to become a fuel for ships. However, the use of biomethane poses a “methane leak” risk of unburned methane emissions throughout the supply chain.
Ammonia is a truly carbon-free substance and can be produced using renewable electricity. Such systems have higher energy conversion rates than biomaterial-based systems, but production pathways cannot utilize potential energy sources, such as waste biomass. However, ammonia is a highly toxic substance, and even small accidents can have a major impact on the crew and the environment. For ammonia, the transition from current to future applications is also a huge challenge.
According to research by Maersk and Lloyd’s Register, batteries and fuel cells are unlikely to play an immediate role in promoting commercially viable zero-emission deep-sea vessels.