London — The concept of a one-size-fits-all shipping fuel is in the past, with hydrogen and ammonia the leading candidates to meet cleaner fuel goals, shipping company Euronav's CEO Huge De Stoop said.
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"The winners have already been decided and that is going to be either hydrogen or ammonia," De Stoop told S&P Global Platts in an interview on Sept. 7. "The only problem that we have that we don't know when it's going to be ready and available," he added.
"I'm speaking about an engine that is really capable of burning efficiently ammonia in a safe way because ammonia is a very toxic gas," the tanker leader said, noting that infrastructure is crucial too.
"The world produces a certain amount of ammonia. It uses fertilizer, but the way it is produced is brown, meaning that we're using energy to use it, which is coming from fossil fuel. So it's a little bit ridiculous to be proud to burn ammonia or hydrogen on board your vessel" if this is the situation.
He noted there are greener ways to produce it, such as if your electricity is green and has been using renewable energy then you can co-share. He added it makes sense for the bigger vessels on longer voyages.
"Anywhere from 40 to 100 [days voyage]. It is the solution that we will have in the future," he stated.
"However, it's going to take time to put the infrastructure in place, and it's going to take time to finishing the development of the engine, which I understand we are nearly there, will take about 2 years," he added.
The International Energy Agency has also stated in a new report that biofuels, ammonia and hydrogen will meet more than 80% of shipping fuel needs by 2070, using around 13% of the world's hydrogen production, with ammonia the outright leader. "More than 60% of the emissions reductions in 2070 come from technologies that are not commercially available today," the Paris-based agency predicted.
Cleaner fossil fuel limits
De Stoop believes the industry is close to "hitting a brick wall" with current technology and getting the most out of oil-based fuels.
"In the meantime, do we try to be even more efficient on the existing technology, and it seems that we have reached a limit, and maybe there's another 5%, 7%, potentially 10% saving on the consumption and therefore emissions," he said.
De Stoop warned of the risks of adopting LNG or methanol, even with biofuel components as the industry looks to make good on decarbonization targets.
The International Maritime Organization, which capped the amount of sulfur in fuel oil at 0.5% from Jan. 1, 2020, from 3.5% previously, has a strategy of cutting carbon dioxide emissions per ship by 40% from 2008 levels by 2030. It then wants to cut the shipping industry's total greenhouse gas emissions by 50% by 2050.
While LNG has lower carbon emissions, it emits methane through the supply chain and De Stoop is unsure there is the political will to tackle the leakage issue. He also drew parallels with the industry's risks with scrubbers, equipment that removes sulfur from fuel oil so its engines can run cleanly, but which he said has had issues with regulation and economics.
"We all order LNG and then 5 years later, someone finally admits that is polluting more because we have not been able to solve the leakage problem, and everybody goes back to square one," undermining the environment and this would "not be the right thing," De Stoop explained.
With methanol and biofuel options, De Stoop raised the question of economics again and noted that with limited supply, shipping has to be honest with itself and how it competes in the greener fuel market. He gave the example of the airline industry which may have to lean much more heavily on the biojet solution given the difficulties of suitable alternatives and if other industries demand it too then the price of biofuels will be too expensive.
De Stoop also pointed out that with shipping itself, different cleaner fuels will suit certain sectors, differentiating between the size of ship and length and type of journey.
"We do long journeys so we need a fuel that ... does not take away capacity from the fuel we need to transport. It's going to be the same for the container guys. But if you look at ferries they run for just 2-3 hours and then they stop and they can run on batteries," De Stoop said explaining the calorific value of a voyage.
"So it's very important not to have, or not to believe that we're going to have one solution across all shipping like we have at the moment. Tomorrow, everybody will have to find its own solution, which makes economic sense, locally and globally," the tanker boss said.
S&P Global Platts Analytics believes alternative shipping fuels are still in the early stages of development and are expected to take significant time to displace oil. In Platts Analytics' long-term outlook, non-petroleum marine fuels account for 11% of total bunker demand by 2040, with almost all of this accounted for by natural gas-based fuels.
"Alternative fuels are likely to be only one of a range of carbon reduction strategies employed by major shippers, with the others being improved fuel burn efficiency rates (most famously slow steaming, but also direct carbon capture, biofuels, batteries, fuel-efficient lubricants, and LNG bunkering)," Platts Analytics noted.