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INCORPORATING

MAERSK BACKS ALCOHOL, BIOMETHANE AND AMMONIA AS FUTURE FUELS

Thursday, October 24, 2019 

A study by AP Moller-Maersk and Lloyds Register, based on market projections, has concluded that the best opportunities for net zero carbon shipping lie in sustainable energy sources, primarily alcohol, biomethane, and ammonia.

Energy efficiency has been and still is an important tool for Maersk to reduce CO2 emissions. The company says that efficiency measures have positioned it around 10% 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,” said COO Søren Toft. “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.”  

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% of our focus on this working hypothesis and will keep the remaining 20% to look at other options,” said Toft.

“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,” said LR CEO Alastair Marsh.  “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.”

Alcohols (ethanol and methanol) are non- toxic and have 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 and 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 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 is higher than for biomaterial-based systems, but the production pathway cannot tap into potential sources such as waste biomass. The main challenge is that ammonia is highly toxic and even small accidents can create major risks. The transition from current to future applications is a huge challenge. 

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

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