Apr 30

Decarbonisation — let’s not ‘wait and see’, let’s act now!

On behalf of Michael Schaap // Niels den Njis


Decarbonisation is today’s greatest challenge. For every single one of us it’s ever present – both personally and professionally. And this is why I just cannot understand how it makes sense for the shipping industry to stand still and wait for a future fuel that may never come.

It took around a decade for LNG as a marine fuel to mature. We are now at the point where it is fully established, proven to be safe, accessible around the world through an expanding infrastructure, with processes and protocols to support its use. It is improving human health by reducing harmful local pollutants such as SOx, NOx and particulate matter. It reduces GHG emissions by up to 23%. And it offers shipping a pathway to a carbon neutral future through the incremental uptake of bio-LNG and eventually E-LNG produced from green hydrogen when this becomes available at scale, both of these fuels use existing infrastructure and engine technology. It’s a safe, viable, commercially-astute bet.

The World Bank cites ammonia and hydrogen as shipping’s future fuels. But, for me, ammonia is a gamble – and one not for the faint-hearted. Hydrogen has many challenges, and we see this more used as a building block for E-fuels like E-LNG and Methanol but there are a whole range of safety, environmental and technical issues to be addressed before these, or any other, alternative fuels and technologies are ready for use in the marine environment let alone that marine fuels will have to compete with other sectors like aviation and road transport. Not to mention the trillions of dollars estimated to construct the full infrastructure required for them.

Hydrogen is highly flammable and will permeate through just about anything, and ammonia is extremely toxic with the effects of “ammonia slip” yet to be considered. These attributes have significant implications for vessel operations, safety aboard vessels and in port communities, and public acceptance.

Circumnavigating these extremely challenging issues will be high cost and high risk. There has been no comprehensive Well-to-Wake analysis performed on either of these alternative fuels, as there has on LNG.  Without these studies, how can we effectively compare the long-term environmental attributes of these or other alternatives?

Let’s leave policy setting to the International Maritime Organisation. Let’s provide shipowners and operators with factual information using the latest data, verified by independent experts. But most of all, let’s not sit on our hands waiting for an answer that may never come. Let’s reduce carbon emissions straight away and not sail on for another 10 years with heavy fuel oil with scrubbers that pollute the water. We can and must act now.

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