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Potential of synthetic fuels ammonia and methanol. Part 4 of alternatives to marine fuels.

October 22, 2019

Hydrogen is the best known non-fossil fuel. Another non-fossil fuel is ammonia. This fuel is classified under synthetic fuels, just like methanol (synthetic, but fossil). Both of these synthetic fuels are not very well known yet, but have a lot of potential. In part 4 on alternative marine fuels, the pros and cons of these two products are discussed.


The disadvantage of both LNG and hydrogen is that they become liquid at very low temperatures (-162 degrees Celsius and -253 degrees Celsius respectively). Another gas, ammonia, becomes liquid at -34 degrees Celsius, or at room temperature under high pressure (10 bar). In addition, ammonia has a greater density than liquid hydrogen, so storage takes up less space than hydrogen. However, compared to HFSO, ammonia weighs almost twice as much and requires three times as much space to generate the same amount of energy.

In any case, ammonia has been in the spotlight for some time as an alternative fuel. But how realistic is the use of ammonia as a marine fuel?

Several studies have taken place or are underway on the use of ammonia. In the October 2018 DNV GL Energy Transition Outlook 2018, Maritime Forecast to 2050 study, DNV GL estimates ammonia as a fuel as a "best estimate future". Lloyd's Register identified ammonia as "the most competitive" zero-emission fuel in its December 2017 report "Lloyd's Register, Zero-Emission Vessels 2030." Also, the International Transport Forum, part of OECD, concluded in its report "Decarbonising Maritime Transport, Pathways to zero-carbon shipping by 2035", that the sector will be able to make a big impact on zero-carbon shipping by 2035 if a mix of ammonia-hydrogen fuel is used.

The Dutch ship design and engineering company C-Job Naval Architects has investigated the use of ammonia as a fuel. C-Job has believed for several years that ammonia could be a feasible and promising option as a clean and sustainable fuel. The study was based on an ammonia tanker that sails on its own cargo.

The first ship to run on LNG was an LNG tanker, simply because the LNG storage facility was already available and it was a relatively small step to run on it yourself. The same could apply to ammonia tankers. Ammonia is transported in LPG tankers for the fertiliser industry. Those ships can, in principle, use their cargo as fuel.

MAN Energy Solutions is currently investigating the possibilities of an engine that runs on ammonia. Technically speaking, it is possible to use this fuel, but since ammonia is highly toxic, and the "International Code of the Construction and Equipment of Ships Carrying Liquefied Gases in Bulk" (the IGC Code) prohibits the use of toxic substances as fuel, there are still quite a few regulatory hurdles to overcome before ammonia will break through as a fuel.

However, because of the importance of ammonia as a raw material for the production of manure, there is already ample experience with ammonia on ships, both in storage for transport and in refrigeration on board. There is also considerable experience with the production, handling and safety of ammonia in the industry. In this sector, there are thorough regulations. These regulations can serve as the basis for legislation on the use of ammonia as a fuel.

And if ammonia does indeed become the shipping industry's choice for carbon-free fuel, about 200 million tons of ammonia will be needed annually, which is more than is currently being produced worldwide.



Methanol is also a potential emission-free shipping fuel. In the Netherlands, the sector-wide project Green Maritime Methanol will investigate the opportunities for methanol as a sustainable alternative fuel for ships. In addition to shipowners, shipbuilders, engine manufacturers and specialist service providers such as Boskalis, Royal Dutch Navy, Van Oord and Wagenborg, Damen Shipyards, Feadship and Royal IHC, engine manufacturers Pon Power and Wärtsilä, Marine Service Noord and C-Job Naval Architects, the ports of Rotterdam and Amsterdam, research centres TNO, TU Delft, NLDA and Marin, and methanol suppliers BioMCN, Helm Proman and the international sector organisation Methanol Institute are also contributing to the research.

The project will run for two years. As part of the project, partners will investigate concrete possibilities for the use of methanol as maritime transport fuel for both new build ships and conversions.

Stena Line has been using methanol since 2015. The Stena Germanica, the connection between Gothenburg and Kiel sails on a fuel mix that includes methanol. Stena Line converted the ship, which can carry 1,500 passengers, for this purpose. The Stena Germanica dates from 2001, and Finnish company Wärtsilä has produced a conversion kit for the Germ's 32,000 hp engines. The operation costs € 22 mln.

Since 2016, two seagoing ships of Methanex Corporation have been running on dual fuel methanol engines, trendsetters within methanol-powered ships. The first 10,000 cruising hours are up -the engine comes from MAN.

The potential of non-fossil fuels ammonia and methanol
Photo: Methanex


In Part 5, we will further explore technological solutions to reduce sulfur and nitrate emissions.