There is no doubt that alternative fuels will play a crucial role in the transition of international shipping. To decarbonise, the industry will need to adopt zero-carbon technologies. For us at EDF Europe, alternative fuels are one of the main topics related to shipping. We have been looking at different fuels and assessing opportunities their implementation would bring to countries and their economies.
Ammonia at sea
In November 2022 we published Ammonia at sea: studying the potential impact of ammonia as a shipping fuel on marine ecosystems in cooperation with the global sustainability consulting firm Ricardo and Lloyd’s Register, a global professional services organisation specialising in engineering and technology solutions. The report analyses the challenges presented by the introduction of ammonia as a shipping fuel related to safe fuel bunkering, storage, supply and consumption for different ship types, as ammonia is toxic if released into the environment.
The report, focused specifically on the impacts of acute large-event spills of ammonia used as a shipping fuel that can occur during bunkering or in the case of a ship’s collision and sinking, assesses the consequences for ecological receptors in riverine, transitional and marine habitats where a spill may occur. The habitats assessed were rivers, estuaries, wetlands, coastal waters, coral reefs, mangroves, polar regions and the deep sea. The impact on ecological receptors within each aquatic habitat were also considered.
Ammonia produced from renewable energy sources is considered a sustainable fuel alternative. But it's crucial the shipping industry proceed with caution because the potential impacts of ammonia as a fuel on aquatic environments need to be further identified and assessed.
Electrofuels for shipping
In December 2019 we published a new study Electrofuels for shipping: How synthetic fuels from renewable electricity could unlock sustainable investment in countries like Chile. The report, which was created in cooperation with the global sustainability consulting firm Ricardo, analyses electrofuels, namely green ammonia, hydrogen and methanol made with untapped renewable energy, as a tool to decarbonise international shipping. These climate-friendly fuels can be produced to scale using commercially available technologies, and deployed at scale relatively quickly.
The report, focused specifically on potential implementation of these fuels in Chile, which has one of the world's largest renewable energy capacity that currently remains mostly unused. Chile is a major maritime nation which, thanks to its remote position, heavily relies on seaborne trade. Chile's geographic setting makes it possible to place electrofuel plants close to ports and main shipping routes.
Introduction of electrofuels in Chile could unlock investment worth up to 90 billion US dollars and would bring many other benefits to the country and its people.
Sailing on Solar
In May 2019, we published a report Sailing on Solar analysing the application of green ammonia (i.e. ammonia made with renewable energy) in international shipping. The report, prepared by global sustainability consultancy Ricardo Energy and Environment, identified green ammonia as one of the most promising zero-carbon shipping fuel options. Green ammonia can offer a climate solution if it can be produced at scale using abundant untapped renewable energy resources without increasing fossil fuel use, and can be used in modified shipping engines and hydrogen fuel cells. Moreover, the authors concluded that wider adoption of such a fuel can unleash trillions of dollars of investment opportunities in sustainable industrial infrastructure, particularly in developing countries.
The paper also analysed issues around the potential supply of green ammonia – such as the construction of production plants and infrastructure – as well as the demand from the vessels themselves, including fuel transport and engine compatibility. The study demonstrates that countries with untapped renewable energy potential could benefit by establishing a green ammonia supply chain for the marine sector.
This is shown in a case study of Morocco where green ammonia production could be developed using its abundant renewable energy capacity. In addition, Morocco’s large commercial ports near important shipping lanes make the country well-suited to foster a green ammonia industry. This capacity can be used to attract investment in Morocco for renewable energy and green ammonia that otherwise would not happen.
At the end of July 2019, we partnered with Ricardo once again to make the Sailing on Solar paper accessible to a wider audience. We ran two webinars presenting the main findings of the report as well as policy solutions for decarbonisation of the shipping sector which you can watch by clicking below.
How about other fuels?
Alternative fuels will be needed not only to meet (and hopefully exceed) the International Maritime Organisation's target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 50% by 2050 compared to 2008 levels. They will play also an important role in helping the industry to meet criteria for the 2020 sulphur cap. Green ammonia is certainly not the only solution for zero-carbon shipping and its share in the future fuel mix will depend on a wider range of factors. We have analysed other low or zero carbon fuel options for the shipping industry and created a simple overview of the main findings here.