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Alcohol, biomethane and ammonia the best-positioned fuels to reach zero net maritime emissions – Maersk

A study by Denmark-headed A.P. Møller - Maersk, the world's largest container shipping company and Lloyds Register, a leading provider of professional services for marine engineering and technology confirms that the best opportunities for decarbonizing shipping lie in finding new sustainable energy sources. Based on market projections, the best-positioned fuels for research and development into net-zero fuels for shipping are alcohol, biomethane, and ammonia.

According to the International Maritime Organisation (IMO), over 90 percent of the world’s trade is carried by sea and it is, by far, the most cost-effective way to move en masse goods and raw materials around the world.

According to the International Maritime Organisation (IMO), over 90 percent of the world’s trade is carried by sea and it is, by far, the most cost-effective way to move en masse goods and raw materials around the world. Shipping is responsible for 2-3 percent of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, so the industry has significant potential to help create a carbon-neutral economy by 2050. Maersk is determined to play its part by leading the development and scaling of future solutions.

Energy efficiency has been and still is an important tool for Maersk to reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. Efficiency measures have positioned Maersk 10 percent ahead of the industry average. But getting to net-zero requires a total shift in the way deep-sea vessels are propelled. The shipping industry needs to introduce carbon-neutral propulsion fuels and new technologies.

The main challenge is not at sea but on land. Technology changes inside the vessels are minor when compared to the massive innovative solutions and fuel transformation that must be found to produce and distribute sustainable energy sources on a global scale. We need to have a commercially viable carbon neutral vessel in service 11 years from now, explained Søren Toft, Maersk Chief Operating Officer.

These three fuel pathways have relatively similar cost projections but different challenges and opportunities.

It is too early to rule anything out completely, but we are confident that these three are the right places to start. Consequently, we will spend 80 pervent of our focus on this working hypothesis and will keep the remaining 20 percent to look at other options, Toft said.

According to Maersk and Lloyds Register, batteries and fuel cells are unlikely to have an immediate role in propelling commercially viable carbon neutral deep-sea vessels.

The next decade requires industry collaboration as shipping considers its decarbonisation options and looks closely at the potential of fuels like alcohol, biomethane, and ammonia. This joint modelling exercise between Lloyd’s Register and Maersk indicates that shipowners must invest for fuel flexibility and it is also clear that this transition presents more of an operating expenditure rather than capital expenditure challenge, said LR CEO Alastair Marsh.

Alcohols – ethanol and methanol – are not a highly toxic liquid with various possible production pathways directly from biomass and/or via renewable hydrogen combined with carbon from either biomass or carbon capture.

Existing solutions for handling the low flash point and for burning alcohols are well proven. Ethanol and methanol are fully mixable in the vessel’s bunker tanks, creating bunkering flexibility. However, the transition of the industry towards alcohol-based solutions is yet to be defined.

Biomethane, on the other hand, has a potential smooth transition given existing technology and infrastructure. The challenge, however, is ‘methane slip’ – the emission of unburned methane along the entire supply chain.

Ammonia is truly carbon-free and can be produced from renewable electricity. The energy conversion rate of this system is higher than that of biomaterial-based systems, but the production pathway cannot tap into potential energy sources such as waste biomass.

The main challenge for ammonia is that it is highly toxic and even small accidents can create major risks to the crew and the environment. The transition from current to future applications is also a huge challenge for ammonia.

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