Current debates about the fuel of the future must be had with the understanding that there is no perfect solution, all future fuels will have challenges to be overcome, the question is which challenge is easiest and offers the greatest benefits.
Discussing these challenges, and indeed, working to overcome them are Jakob Andersen from Danish fuel producer Mash, Lars Bo Andersen from Alfa Laval and Claus Graugaard from the Maersk McKinney Moller Center for Zero Carbon Technology, who are working together under the auspices of ShippingLabs to find workable solutions to the maritime carbon challenge. That means understanding the properties of each fuel and working out how best to use it in the maritime sector.
For Jakob Andersen, the challenge is clear, “With a lot of these fuels what you’re really discussing is how big a headache you’re going to get when you get it on board and try to make use of it and get energy out of it,” he told Container News TV, in an extended interview that can be seen here.
Jakob went on to map out the problem, there’s the low hanging fruit, which is just a drop in fuel that works with whatever infrastructure is already there. “It would be super enticing if we could come up with a fuel formulation that could service the entire deepsea market, so you would not need to replace infrastructure,” he adds.
Then there’s the next level of complexity, such as methanol with its low flashpoint, “will this explode when we take it on board? Do we need other fuel handling systems? Probably we’re still within internal combustion systems.”
Finally we get to something that is more “exotic”, says Jakob, like ammonia, which is a massive headache to combust in a cylinder. “I think there’s an escalation there that needs to be taken, and at some point there might be a choice do we need to get rid of the internal combustion infrastructure and replace it with something that has to do with a more electro-chemical approach?” He asks.
That would come much later, because, as Claus Graugaard points out ammonia is the most immature fuel in terms of technology readiness, including the bunkering, logistics and onboarding side of its use as a maritime fuel.
Graugaard points to the issues with N2O slip, as well as corrosion within the cylinder when ammonia is burnt, which must be addressed and can be solved using proper risk management processes.
“We have had the big discussions about methane slip from burning LNG, but I think we need to be aware that you can control such areas from the beginning and address it up front in your development,” explains Graugaard.
Even with these problems Alfa Laval’s Lars Bo Andersen, believes there is a future for ammonia. “Everyone talks about Power to X these days, but we talk about X to Power and for sure ammonia is one of the most interesting fuels we see in the future even though it takes up more space than the oil we have today.”
Lars Bo says the combustion velocity of ammonia is very low compared to conventional oil, but he sees the fuel as a long-term goal and the route to that target is lined with intermediate stopping off points.
There will be stepping-stones towards ammonia as a fuel “And one of them will be methanol which we’re investigating right now which will be something for the near future and in the short-term we’re looking into biofuel as a viable solution either as a drop in or as a B100 [blended biodiesel] that you can use instead of oil” says Lars Bo.
It is a fact that what is used as a fuel today is governed by standards, such as ISO 2817, and Jakob points out that within these standards there is a very large spread of different types of fuels that even within the same sub-standard will exhibit different properties and different behaviours.
“The good thing about ammonia is that ammonia is ammonia,” concludes Jakob, “So if you make it work once you don’t have to worry about the next time you put it on board because it will still work the same way. Whereas if you’re dealing with a biofuel, well biofuels are as different as you will see with conventional bunker fuels, maybe even more so, so you’ll see issues occurring that you’ve never seen before,” he argues.
That is what makes hydrogen and ammonia enticing, he says, “because you’re dealing with very simple commodities compared to what you’re dealing with today.” Effectively you have one fuel that will be the same wherever you bunker.
You can hear the full discussion at CNTV by clicking here.