Mukesh Chatter, CEO and co-founder of Alsym Energy explains that the maritime industry needs help to progress toward net-zero emissions. The industry is struggling partially due to inaction by governments but also because it’s waiting for new alternative fuel technologies to become available, including ammonia, methane, and hydrogen.
Li-ion) is today’s only viable technology. It comes with a high price tag as well as considerable safety risks. While lithium-ion batteries offer an attractive balance of energy density, size, and weight, marine-grade systems can cost four times as much as EV batteries and the risk of fire is always lurking in the background.hipowners could get started using batteries to electrify ships, but lithium-ion (
Researchers and start-ups are working hard on new battery options that can perform similarly to Li-ion but without drawbacks. While some try to increase safety by developing solid-state lithium batteries that don’t use a flammable liquid electrolyte, others look beyond lithium altogether. Flow and sodium-ion batteries are available, but these can’t deliver the critical balance of high energy density, weight, calendar life, and size needed to make batteries an effective shipping solution. The maritime industry needs non-flammable battery chemistries with energy density comparable to lithium-ion at a similar size and weight. Some companies are close to providing the right answer.
The urgency to reach net zero is driven by the level of emissions that shipping contributes to the atmosphere. According to the International Marine Organization (IMO)’s Fourth Greenhouse Gas Study 2020, the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions — including carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), and nitrous oxide (N2O) expressed in CO2e — of total shipping increased from 977 million tonnes in 2012 to 1,076 million tonnes in 2018 (an increase of 9.6%).
In response, the IMO has set out decarbonization targets for the industry. The agency is looking to reduce the carbon impact of shipping by at least 40% by 2030. By 2050, the aim is to cut net annual GHG emissions by at least half and (hopefully) reach zero net carbon emissions.
Why not lithium-ion?
Lithium-ion battery technology has some trade-offs when it comes to large-scale use cases. The first significant problem is safety. Li-ion batteries are known for being flammable and toxic, with EVs garnering national attention when they catch fire. Aware of the flammability concerns, marine battery integrators focus on minimizing risk. To prevent battery cells from going into thermal runaway in the event of a short or when temperatures exceed 60 degrees Celsius, extensive cooling technologies had to be developed and built into these systems, eating into energy capacity and adding substantially to costs.
When EVs catch fire, a team of nearby firefighters can be dispatched, but it isn’t possible to get that sort of immediate help when there’s a fire aboard an oceangoing vessel stranded hundreds of miles from the nearest port. Further, where diesel fires are quick to extinguish, lithium-ion fires burn at extremely high temperatures, and each battery cell needs to cool completely to prevent propagation and reignition. These fires also discharge up to 6,000 liters of toxic vapor per kWh of battery – including deadly hydrogen fluoride, hydrogen cyanide, and hydrogen chloride.
Insurance companies better understand the dangers lithium-ion batteries pose to vessels and crews. As a result, maritime insurers are increasing their rates on shipping vessels carrying Li-ion batteries. According to Allianz Global Corporate & Specialty (ACGS), fire/explosion is the third top cause of shipping losses over the past decade accounting for 120 out of 892 reported total losses and the most expensive cause of marine insurance claims over the past five years.
With all this in mind, marine-grade lithium-ion battery systems can approach $600 per kWh – nearly four times more than EV battery packs. BloombergNEF’s annual battery price survey found raw material and battery component prices plus inflation increased lithium-ion battery pack prices by 7% between 2021 and 2022. With rising costs and competition from other industries, such as EVs and grid-scale storage, orders for lithium-ion batteries are difficult to secure at reasonable costs for maritime integrators.
The final setback is the supply chain. Currently, 80% of the global lithium refining capability is in China. The EU and US won’t be able to open new refining plants for roughly five years, giving Chinese suppliers considerable influence over material prices used in these batteries for the immediate future.
The future is green
The maritime sector must reduce its reliance on fossil fuels and slash emissions by adopting batteries and alternative fuels to meet the aggressive IMO goals. The Maritime Battery Forum reports 439 ships are already equipped with batteries, and 167 are under construction. New innovations could also help, including renewable energy sources, more efficient propellers, and more aquadynamic hulls to help ships move more easily through the water.
Future developments will likely lead to two different outcomes. Fuel cells, methanol, LNG, and other alternative fuels will be used for primary propulsion on large cargo ships and other transoceanic vessels, with batteries for hotel loads, low-speed departures and arrivals, and peak shaving. Harbor vessels, ferries, offshore service vessels, and short-sea vessels will likely become fully battery-powered, charging using shore power.
The maritime industry is at a critical turning point as it strives to meet the International Maritime Organization’s net-zero targets. While new battery technologies are emerging that could revolutionize the industry and facilitate electrification, shipowners must be more aggressive in demanding better options from shipyards and battery integrators. The ideal solution for powering the future of maritime shipping is cost-effective, non-flammable battery chemistries with energy densities comparable to lithium-ion.
The views presented hereabove are only those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of SAFETY4SEA and are for information sharing and discussion purposes discussion purposes only.