Is the shipping industry ready for ammonia?

Bengt Sangberg, Bureau Veritas Marine’s Chief Executive of the Nordics, discusses the potential of ammonia as marine fuel with Pat Han, R&D Director of Haldor Topsøe and Peter Kirkeby, Technical Promotion Manager at Man Energy Solutions.

BS: What benefits does the shipping industry hope to get by using ammonia as fuel?

PK: Ship owners, operators, managers and charterers are fundamentally interested in future-proofing their fleets. They see ammonia as a way to achieve decarbonized shipping, minimizing environmental impact and delivering cargo via green transport, which consumers increasingly expect.

I have seen interest from owners of all ship types, but particularly for container ships, which travel fixed routes and burn a great deal of fuel. There is also significant enthusiasm from long-term charterers of bulk carriers and the ammonia carrier segment, where ammonia is already onboard as cargo.

BS: What challenges does ammonia present as marine fuel?

PK: There are challenges around fuel use and combustion, namely avoiding ammonia slip and managing nitrous oxide (NOx) emissions. To do this, engines are expected to use diesel-cycle combustion, compressing the air, igniting a pilot flame and then injecting ammonia to ensure stable ignition and full combustion.

Ships will also need to be fitted with emissions reduction systems like selective catalytic reduction (SCR), to minimize the escape of harmful compounds resulting from ammonia combustion.

PH: Cost is also a major factor. For the moment, ammonia is still more expensive than heavy fuel oil (under $100 USD/MT in June) and few governments have carbon taxes or incentives that encourage ship owners to use ammonia.

Safety is another key point, as ammonia is toxic, but this can be solved with careful engineering and crew training. Ammonia has long been used in refrigeration technology and carried onboard as cargo, so ensuring safety is manageable

BS: How much does ammonia cost for ships?

PH: Cost depends heavily on what kind of ammonia a ship uses. Black – or conventional – ammonia, which is developed using natural gas, currently costs about $250 USD/MT.

Blue ammonia, which combines natural gas with carbon capture and storage technology, minimizing carbon emissions by two-thirds, may cost $350-400 USD/MT. And hybrid green ammonia, which is produced by adding front-end electrolysis to existing ammonia plants, is predicted to initially cost $350-400 USD/MT, later dropping to $250 USD/MT.

BS: What solutions have you developed to allow for ammonia use?

PK: Man Energy Solutions has already begun developing a commercial, ammonia-fueled, two-stroke engine. This year we have taken delivery of our second 45T0ME-X test engine and have undergone several HAZID workshops to assess risk for the engine concept. The first engine tests will begin in 2021, and we expect to have a complete engine installed at yard by 2024.

PH: Haldor Topsøe has a strong focus on improving efficiency for electrolysis in ammonia plants, working with solid oxide electrolysis cell (SOEC) technology. The specific energy consumption of SOEC-based ammonia is 30% lower than that of conventional ammonia plants or those using alkaline electrolysis. Leveraging our expertise in electrolysis, we are developing an SOEC-based Ammonia Synthesis Gas Generator.

BS: What place will legislation have in the future of ammonia?

PH: For the moment, the technology for ammonia-fueled ships is far ahead of relevant legislation or regulations. Engineering and chemical companies are working to persuade international bodies to seriously look into ammonia, providing key technical information to legislators.

Haldor Topsøe, for example, is involved in Denmark’s climate partnership, providing information to the Danish Energy Ministry to help them update their energy and technology catalogue.  

PK: As technology providers, our goal is to make sure that legislators are as well informed as possible, with easy access to the data, technical expertise and guidance they need. We must be clear about what technologies are available, and ensure that proposed regulations are both ambitious and realistic.

MAN Energy Solutions does this by seeking to influence regulations developed by IMO’s Marine Environment Protection Committee. We act as technical advisors to the Danish Maritime Authority and promote change through our membership in organizations like EUROMOT and SEA Europe.

Photo Credit: ManEnergy