On behalf of German ship operator Reederei Nord, a team from ETH Zurich investigated shipping activities in the North and Baltic Seas as well as the infrastructure, costs of new fuels and storage options, in a bid to map out “routes” towards emission-free shipping. The team saw zero-emission propulsion systems in the form of electric motors, fuel cells or combustion engines powered by ammonia, as holding the greatest potential in the near future.
Christian Oldendorff, entrepreneur and co-owner of German shipping company Reederei Nord, commissioned the team to undertake the study, as part of the sus.lab project which, in collaboration with partners from industry, aims to translate scientific findings into sustainable practices.
The report is based on shipping activities in the North and Baltic Seas.
Using external studies and interviews with innovators and industry experts as a basis, lead author Petrissa Eckle and her team investigated routes, the existing infrastructure, sustainability and the cost of new fuel options.
They focused their efforts on alternative energy sources that will be available in the next five to ten years and that don’t emit CO2 as the ships travel. Another key requirement of the solutions they proposed was that they be scalable for international shipping.
Although the study did not include measures to enhance efficiency, such as optimised hull design or operational improvements, these would result in even greater energy savings and would, in turn, further reduce CO2 emissions.
The team therefore see zero-emission propulsion systems in the form of electric motors, fuel cells or combustion engines powered by ammonia as holding the greatest potential in the near future.
What makes the most suitable source of energy depends on the type of ship and length of the route.
In the North and Baltic Seas, ships with electric propulsion systems are already being used for short distances, which makes sense,
For long distances, the report contends that ammonia would be a suitable option but due to its toxicity, its use as a fuel is not currently permitted.
As for hydrogen, there is still a lack of capacity for liquifying and transporting; testing will soon begin on the first cargo vessels.
The next step is to run pilot projects to find answers to all the unresolved questions. We need shipping companies to test vessels with emission-free propulsion systems,
An IMO symposium on sulphur 2020 and alternative fuels on 18 October heard that ammonia and hydrogen are promising potential fuels of the future in a decarbonized shipping industry.