Fuels for the future

29 Jan 2014
DNV GL has a number of concepts, embracing future matitime challenges, such as the Quantum container ship

DNV GL has a number of concepts, embracing future matitime challenges, such as the Quantum container ship

DNV GL has published a new position paper, entitled 'Alternative Fuels for Shipping', which lists a number of long-term options for low carbon, low emission fuels for the industry.

Naturally, given the former DNV’s prominence in the field, LNG is well to the fore. But that has now become sufficiently established so that although many might still regard it as alternative, its eventual adoption now seems a certainty. So it was the rest of the proposals that grabbed our attention.

One of the often-overlooked factors in low-carbon fuels is the cost of production and transportation – in both monetary and environmental terms – which has to be factored in. DNV GL refers to this as the ‘well to propeller’ cost. And this makes some of the proposed ‘alternatives’ look relatively impractical. An example is biofuels, sometimes seen as a possibility for deep-sea shipping. To produce a quantity of fuel equivalent to 50m tonnes of oil would require a land area the size of Greece. Given that shipping consumes around 300m tonnes of oil per year, that is an obvious limiting factor.

Short sea shipping is where most alternative fuels are likely to be used, in Sweden, for example, Stena Line is converting some ferries to fun on locally-produced methanol, while local biomass and biogas produced from waste are other possibilities for the longer term.

“Deep sea shipping needs globally available fuels and so will tend towards LNG and biodiesel, if it becomes available,” says Christos Chryssakis, the DNV GL senior researcher behind the study. But the biggest focus for deep sea ships seems to be to make use of any readily-available energy source, which includes renewables. The key to this seems to be battery technology and other energy storage media like fuel cells, still an emerging technology, but one which is advancing rapidly. Although Mr Chryssakis admits that: “While renewable energy, particularly solar and wind, may have some potential to mitigate carbon emissions, this is not seen as a viable large-scale alternative for commercial shipping.”

Were it not for political perceptions, nuclear power would offer a highly attractive solution. But it can still play a part in producing shore power for ships in port or to recharge shipboard batteries.

DNV GL says that it recognises the challenges ahead for ship owners and operators, but is continuing to investigate, and provide solutions for, these challenges and assist owners to come up with a viable and sustainable way ahead.

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