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Tanker Shipping & Trade

Tanker Shipping & Trade

UPDATED: New fuels ‘will power the world fleet by 2050’

Tue 28 Feb 2017 by Paul Gunton

UPDATED: New fuels ‘will power the world fleet by 2050’
Tristan Smith (University College London): Shipping faces a “radical change in fuel” and charterers will help raise development funding (credit: ABB)

Tankers and other bulk shipping sectors will have to use new energy sources if shipping is to adapt to expected restrictions on carbon emissions, predicted Tristan Smith, a reader at University College London who studies the environmental impacts of shipping. Synthetic fuels, including hydrogen, will replace HFO and much of the funding to encourage the transition will be organised by charterers, he said in London today (28 February).

He was taking part in a round-table discussion organised by ABB’s Marine and Ports business unit to explore future power options, a scenario that it calls Shipping 4.0.

“Shipping demand will grow and the CO2 emissions it will be allowed to emit as a sector will decrease,” Dr Smith said. By 2050, he predicted, CO2 emissions per tonne-mile will have to fall by 60-90 per cent if the Paris agreement on climate change is to be met and that will need “either a radical change in fuel or a radical change in speed.”

Since it does not make sense to operate at slow speeds, new fuels will be inevitable, he said, and the future lies with electric ships powered by fuel cells that take their energy from fuels such as hydrogen, ammonia or similar “power to liquids”, he said. In his presentation he focused on hydrogen, but later told Tanker Shipping & Trade that “the market and technologies will be where the winning fuel will be determined.”

He described what he termed his ‘hydrogen hypothesis’, in which the gas would be produced by using renewable energy from wind and solar power, in effect storing that energy at times when it would otherwise be surplus to demand, he said.

He ruled out biofuel as a long-term ship fuelling option as there will not be enough of it, according to his forecasts. And although LNG is an alternative to hydrogen for fuel cells, it would not be carbon neutral and would be only an interim technology, he said. Hydrogen-fuelled ships could become economic by 2030, he believes, assuming technical and regulatory developments.

In January, 13 industry giants, including Shell, Total and Engie, came together at Davos to launch the Hydrogen Council to promote the gas as a cleaner-burning fuel source. 

In the tanker and bulk trades, charterers will play an important role in raising the finance to develop the technologies needed, he said, because they “carry the risk of the shipowners not being ready for decarbonised regulation.” Without new fuelling technologies, when regulation comes, “they will be paying much higher rates because they will be paying the extra carbon price.”

Speaking later to Tanker Shipping & Trade, he cited as an example Shell’s experiments in 2015 with an air-bubble lubrication system to reduce fuel consumption as an example of a charterer supporting emission-reducing technology. In the bulk sector, he mentioned Cargill and Bunge, which are members of the Sustainable Shipping Initiative as examples of charterers that are supporting environmental shipping goals.

Regulation or some other measures to restrict CO2 emissions are inevitable, he said, which could lead to a carbon price being set for emissions. By then, “you need technology to be enabled and made cheaper so that costs are reduced until it becomes cheaper than a fossil fuel equivalent,” he said.

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