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Wärtsilä advances future combustion capabilities with first ammonia fuel tests

Finland-headed marine and energy engineering major Wärtsilä Oyj has announced that it has initiated combustion trials using ammonia. The research will help the company to prepare for the use of ammonia as a fuel that can contribute to reducing both the shipping- and energy sectors’ greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

Wärtsilä’s testing of ammonia as a viable fuel for shipping and energy sector applications is part of its future fuels development programme (photo courtesy Wärtsilä).

As part of the tests, ammonia was injected into a combustion research unit to better understand its properties. Based on initial results, the tests will be continued on both dual-fuel and spark-ignited gas engines.

These will be followed by field tests in collaboration with ship owners from 2022, and potentially also with energy customers in the future.

The first tests have yielded promising results and we will continue to optimise combustion parameters. This is an important step in making sure that Wärtsilä can provide the engine and fuel systems that shipowners need, whichever fuel they choose in the future, said Kaj Portin, General Manager, Fuel & Operational Flexibility, Wärtsilä Marine.

Promising maritime fuel

According to Wärtsilä, ammonia is a promising, carbon-free fuel as shipping explores how to fulfill the International Maritime Organization’s (IMO) vision of reducing GHG emissions from shipping by at least 50 percent by 2050, while the energy sector is developing optimal paths for 100 percent renewable energy systems already today.

Although ammonia is derived mainly from fossil sources today, in the future ammonia’s GHG footprint can be nearly eliminated if it is produced using electricity from renewable sources.

Ammonia fuel cell

The tests are just the latest step as Wärtsilä aims to develop a complete ammonia fuel solution comprising engines, fuel supply, and storage. The company is working with ship owners, shipbuilders, classification societies and fuel suppliers to learn more about system and safety requirements, as well as fuel composition, emissions, and efficiency.

Wärtsilä is developing ammonia storage and supply systems as part of a project to install ammonia fuel cells on Eidesvik Offshore’s supply vessel “Viking Energy” by 2023.

The company has also gained significant experience with ammonia from designing cargo handling systems for liquid petroleum gas (LPG) carriers, many of which are used to transport ammonia.

Further research and regulatory framework needed

Ammonia has a number of properties that require further investigation. It ignites and burns poorly compared to other fuels and is toxic and corrosive, making safe handling and storage important. Burning ammonia could also lead to higher NOx emissions unless controlled either by after-treatment or by optimising the combustion process.

A regulatory framework and class rules will need to be developed for its use as a marine fuel.

Wärtsilä is investigating several future fuels, including synthetic methane, ammonia, hydrogen, and methanol, with a view to providing complete flexibility across engines and the fuel chain. Internal combustion engines can be adapted to burn any fuel.

Combustion and conversion experience

Dual-fuel or spark-ignited engines are already capable of burning liquified gas – from fossil, biomass or synthetic sources – while diesel engines can run on liquid biofuels, biodiesel or e-diesel.

Top of Wärtsilä's 5RT-flex 50DF 2-stroke low-pressure dual fuel marine engine.

Top of Wärtsilä’s 5RT-flex 50DF 2-stroke low-pressure dual-fuel marine engine. Developed by
Wärtsilä, the engine is installed in the “Tern Sea”, a new dual-fuel vessel belonging to Terntank
Rederi A/S. According to a study, 72 percent of the marine fuel consumed today is by 2-stroke
engines with a further 18 percent used by 4-stroke medium speed engines.

Wärtsilä has extensive experience in converting engines to other fuels, including diesel to dual-fuel, as well as engines capable of burning methanol and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from crude oil cargoes.

The modularity of modern engines means that conversions can be made with a very limited exchange of components. Wärtsilä’s investment in modular engines and in storage and supply systems will enable shipping’s transition from current fossil fuels to bio- and synthetic fuels.

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