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Green hydrogen fuels could cut 80% of global shipping emission by 2050 - IRENA

A rapid replacement of fossil fuels with renewable fuels based on green hydrogen and advanced biofuels could enable to cut up to 80 percent of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions attributed to international maritime shipping by mid-century, a new report by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) finds.

A rapid replacement of fossil fuels with renewable fuels based on green hydrogen and advanced biofuels could enable to cut up to 80 percent of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions attributed to international maritime shipping by mid-century, a new report by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) finds (graphic courtesy IRENA).

Renewable fuels should contribute at least 70 percent of the sector’s energy mix in 2050, IRENA’s “A pathway to decarbonize the shipping sector by 2050” report shows, outlining a roadmap for the global shipping sector in line with the global 1.5°C climate goal.

Between 80 percent and 90 percent of international trade is enabled through maritime means. Decarbonizing global shipping is one of the most challenging sectors to address – and despite raised ambitions – current plans fall short of what is needed. This IRENA outlook clearly shows that cutting CO2 emissions in such a strategic, hard-to-abate sector is technically feasible through green hydrogen fuels, said Francesco La Camera, Director-General, IRENA.

If the international shipping sector were a country, it would be the sixth- or seventh-largest CO2 emitter. IRENA’s decarbonization 1.5°C pathway is based on four key measures such indirect electrification by employing green hydrogen-based fuels, the inclusion of advanced biofuels, the improvement of vessels’ energy efficiency, and the reduction of sectoral activity due to systemic changes in global trade dynamics.

May this report encourage policymakers, ship owners and operators, port authorities, renewable energy developers, and utilities to work together towards common climate goals and show their ambition to world leaders at the UN climate conference COP26 in Glasgow, Francesco La Camera said.

In the short term, advanced biofuels will play a key role in cutting emissions, providing up to 10 percent of the sector’s total energy mix in 2050. In the medium and long term, green hydrogen-based fuels will be pivotal, making up 60 percent of the energy mix in 2050.

E-methanol and e-ammonia most promising

E-methanol and e-ammonia are the most promising green hydrogen-based fuels, with particularly e-ammonia set to be the backbone for the sector’s decarbonizing by 2050.

IRENA’s report flags that e-ammonia could represent as much as 43 percent of the sector’s energy needs in 2050, which would imply the use of about 183 million tonnes of renewable ammonia for international shipping alone, a comparable amount to today’s ammonia global production.

IRENA’s report also finds that the production costs of alternative fuels and their availability will ultimately dictate the actual employment of renewable fuels. Moving from nearly zero CO2 emissions to net-zero requires a 100% renewable energy mix by 2050.

The report finds that renewable e-fuels, e-methanol, and e-ammonia to be the most promising fuels for decarbonizing the shipping sector, the latter in the medium and long term – validation of ammonia engine designs by 2023 will be a key milestone in unlocking the use of renewable ammonia. By 2050, the production costs of e-ammonia are expected to be between US$67-114/MW not least due to its null carbon content which excludes it from the cost of capturing carbon dioxide (CO2), which significantly adds to the final cost of e-methanol. The falling costs of green hydrogen coupled with the cost reduction of CO2 capture technologies should enable 2050 production costs to reach around US$107-145/MWh for renewable e-methanol (graphic courtesy IRENA).

Carbon levy critical

While renewable energy costs have been falling at an accelerated rate, further cost declines are needed for renewable energy-derived fuels to become the prime choice of propulsion. Climate goals and decarbonization ambition can be raised by adopting relevant and timely coordinated international policy measures.

A realistic carbon levy will be critical, putting an adjustable carbon price on each fuel to prevent new fossil fuel investments and stranded assets.

Finally, the report calls on all stakeholders to develop broader business models and establish strategic partnerships involving energy-intensive industries, as well as power suppliers and the petrochemical sector.

Stakeholders need to be fully mapped out and engaged, the various players need to work towards a common goal. Accordingly, governing bodies regulating the international shipping sector need to develop integral and participative planning exercises, establishing step-by-step actions for reaching zero emissions by 2050.

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