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Is good a perfect enemy? DNV GL’s LNG conundrum

On the day that CMA CGM announced the arrival of its first of its nine LNG powered ultra large container ships, the Jaques Saade, classification society DNV GL has backed the use of LNG as a transition fuel, even though no other major liner operator has followed the French carrier’s lead.

Quoting Voltaire DNV GL CEO for maritime, Knut Ørbeck-Nilssen told an audience of journalists online that “Perfect is the enemy of the good”, essentially arguing that while LNG power will not provide the full answer to decarbonisation of the shipping industry it is an acceptable transitional fuel.

Knut Ørbeck-Nilssen claims that "Perfect is the enemy of the good," as DNV GL makes the case for LNG as a transitional fuel.

Accompanying Ørbeck-Nilssen was Tore Longva, maritime principal consultant at DNV GL and one of the authors of the Maritime Forecast 2020 report, launched at the 22 September online seminar. Longva argued that carbon intensity has already been reduced by 20-30%, and that LNG would help the industry achieve the final step to meet the 2030 International Maritime Organization (IMO) target of a 40% reduction in carbon intensity, compared to 2008, by 2030.

In fact Longva is correct, according to the various measures, vessel-based or voyage measures, carbon intensity has fallen substantially, up to 31% since 2008, by other measures it has increased. Nevertheless, the Fourth Greenhouse Gas (GHG) study also measures total emissions, including methane and nitrous oxide, which had increased 9.6% from 2012 to 1.076 billion tonnes.

Currently, methane emissions are not regulated by the European Union’s Emissions Trading System (ETS), which the European Parliament voted, on 16 September, to extend to shipping by 2023. While this is not yet EU policy the trajectory is clear, fossil fuels and shipping are in the EU’s sights.

Tristan Smith, one of the authors of the IMO’s Fourth Greenhouse Gas Study argues, “It should be a concern to those currently opting for LNG machinery that has any methane slip e.g. in particular the low-pressure dual fuel machinery.” For Smith, the logic is clear, methane is a more potent GHG than CO2 and should be regulated.

According to the IMO study, “The CH4 trend saw an 87% increase over the period (2012-2018), which was driven by both an increase in consumption of LNG but the absolute increase is dominated by a change in the machinery mix associated with the use of LNG as a fuel, with a significant increase in the use of dual-fuel machinery that has higher specific exhaust emissions of CH4.”

Commenting on the significant and swift increase in methane emissions, Smith added, “The rapid increase highlights the risks of unintended consequences that occur in any change in fuel or behaviour, if only some of the emissions (e.g. CO2) are regulated and others (e.g. CH4) aren’t.”

Adding to that observation Smith gives fair warning, “For those that have fitted engines with high methane slip, the concern is whether or not they will be subsequently regulated to fit exhaust treatment to control for their CH4 emissions (and at what cost), as well as how ships with that machinery will be viewed in the second hand market.”

In this context the issue is not ignoring the good (LNG) in search of the perfect (a zero carbon fuel), but avoiding the trap of the available (LNG a fossil fuel with emission penalties), in favour of demanding a perfectly good solution, which can be achieved at a far lower long-term cost. It’s not as pithy as Voltaire, but it could protect life on the planet.

Nick Savvides
Managing Editor

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