Fuel for thought in race to clean up ocean

The battle for alternative fuels is hotting up as the maritime industry looks to become more environmentally friendly. 

Although moving goods by sea is by far the cleanest form of transport per tonne-mile, the International Maritime Organization’s target is to slash carbon dioxide emissions by 40 per cent in the next decade.

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Steps to reduce the amount of harmful sulphur dioxide emitted by ships were put into action months ago. The IMO imposed a global sulphur cap of 0.5% at the start of 2020, and most ship operators have now chosen to burn low-sulphur blends.

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But longer-term solutions are needed and industry big hitters are locking horns in the battle to come out on top. Hydrogen has been touted as one possible panacea for several years now and energy giants Royal Dutch Shell are backing the H horse. 

“We believe liquid hydrogen to be advantaged over other potential zero-emissions fuels for shipping, therefore giving a higher likelihood of success,” Shell explained last month. 

“[It is] attracting interest as a potential fuel for power and land-based transport and as a possible feedstock for industry. 

These other sectors could help develop and pay for some of the production and distribution infrastructure [and] the shipping sector should stand ready to capitalize on that development.

Technical work on hydrogen’s use as a marine fuel is still in development. But Shell believes safe designs are feasible for large commercial vessels. In an ideal scenario, hydrogen could be used in ‘fuel-agnostic’ cells, which would be fitted to existing ships and run on LNG until hydrogen is in widespread use. 

Ammonia and methanol have been discussed as another exciting alternative. Class society DNV GL believe this offering is the most promising. 

For shipowners making medium-term plans, though, DNV GL says dual-fuel LNG is currently the most logical strategy. This is because it reduces emissions and fuel costs while maintaining some flexibility for the future.

However, Shell isn’t convinced. It believes methanol is a non starter because its “pathway to zero emissions is considered less efficient than other zero-emissions fuel options.” 

Hydrogen, meanwhile, is starting to make waves in the luxury sector. The world’s first hydrogen powered yacht ‘The New Era’ – which is the brainchild of French company Hynova Boat – left La Ciotat Dockyard last week. 

Hynova Boat founder, Chloe Zaied, posted on social media: “Everything is coming into place, and our hard work will finally be rewarded.”

The vessel is approximately 40ft long and can carry up to 12 people. It includes an electric engine, which is powered by a fuel cell that uses hydrogen. The prototype only ejects water and does not emit CO2 into the ocean.  

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