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Hydrogen and ammonia: creating a market for new green marine fuels

October 6, 2020
By The Explorer

Jeremy Bishop/Unsplash

If the shipping industry is to meet the IMO targets for emissions reduction, more vessels will have to run on hydrogen and ammonia. Norwegian business clusters are taking matters into their own hands to create the necessary infrastructure and value chains for these new green marine fuels.

“When it comes to green shipping, the discussion mainly revolves around green production of hydrogen and ammonia. But this discussion is futile if you don’t have a market. You can’t produce something for customers that don’t exist. That’s why we’re working to develop entire value chains for zero-emission fuels,” says Stein Kvalsund.

Kvalsund is the CEO of Ocean Hyway Cluster, a Norwegian business cluster focusing on maritime hydrogen. He is describing a conundrum facing the maritime sector. On the one hand, the sector must make the transition to green fuels. However, it is difficult to invest in hydrogen and ammonia-powered vessels before the fuels are commercially available and there is bunkering and fuelling infrastructure at most ports.

On the other hand, hydrogen and ammonia value chains and infrastructure will not be built if there is insufficient demand. However, growth in demand will be hampered if the value chains and infrastructure do not exist.

“The technology is not actually the greatest challenge, even though there is still a way to go.”

Hege Økland, NCE Maritime CleanTech

“We will manage to build boats that run on green fuels. The challenges are commercial in nature and involve changing structures and systems,” says Hege Økland, CEO of NCE Maritime CleanTech, a Norwegian business cluster focusing on green shipping.

Kristin Svardal, project manager at Ocean Hyway Cluster, agrees with Økland.

“We already have enough knowledge to build the boats we need. If the shipyard Brødrene AA, for example, receives an order for a hydrogen vessel, that boat will be set afloat 36 months later. But we are not yet equipped to take full advantage of this potential,” she says.

That is why these two clusters are engaged in ambitious projects to speed up the introduction of green energy carriers in shipping.

Hydrogen and ammonia – green marine fuels 101

Both hydrogen and ammonia can be entirely emission-free fuels. The way they are produced determines their total carbon footprint. The two fuels are related, as ammonia is hydrogen in a chemically bound form. Nevertheless, they have somewhat different properties and application areas.

“You have to use a calculator to calculate which fuel is most suitable for a given operation and ship operational profile. For example, ammonia has higher energy density, so you can get more energy than from hydrogen on larger vessels that sail longer distances. But in cases where weight is important, such as for high-speed vessels, hydrogen may be the most suitable fuel,” explains Økland. She stresses that these are only a few of many factors taken into consideration when choosing a fuel.

As regards ammonia, another important factor is that there are already well-developed and scaled value chains for production and transport in place. This is because ammonia is one of the most important raw materials for manufacturing fertiliser.

Meanwhile, electrification of the maritime sector is continuing at full speed. Nevertheless, it will not be possible in the foreseeable future to operate large vessels on batteries over longer distances. This is why Stein Kvalsund believes that the future involves the coexistence of complementary green technologies.

“In a zero-emission scenario, we’re talking about a maritime sector powered by batteries, hydrogen and ammonia.”

Stein Kvalsund, Ocean Hyway Cluster

Brødrene AA has designed the Aero40 H2 fast ferry.

The world’s first ammonia fuel cell installed on a vessel

To pick up the pace of maritime decarbonisation, NCE Maritime CleanTech is participating in and coordinating the ShipFC project, which is funded under the EU’s Fuel Cells and Hydrogen Joint Undertaking (FCH JU). The project is piloting the world’s first large marine vessel to use pure ammonia to generate electricity for propulsion via fuel cells.

“Ammonia fuel cells will be retrofitted on the offshore supply vessel Viking Energy. The vessel will be in operation for Equinor, and we hope to demonstrate that large, energy-intensive vessels can also be emission-free. This is how we will pave the way for use of ammonia in larger vessels sailing over longer distances,” says Hege Økland.

The ammonia fuel cell system will have a capacity of 2MW, allowing the vessel to operate for over 3 000 hours each year without emitting a single gram of CO₂. The project consortium consists of the Norwegian companies Equinor, Eidesvik Offshore, Prototech and Wärtsilä, as well as 10 European shipping companies, research institutions and industry players.

In parallel, NCE Maritime CleanTech is participating in the Value Chain for Green Liquid Hydrogen project, which is funded under Norway’s PILOT-E scheme. The project aims to build a complete liquid hydrogen supply chain in Norway for maritime applications. It is led by BKK, a Norwegian grid company and provider of energy solutions, with Equinor and the French company Air Liquide as key partners.

“Liquid hydrogen is a technically challenging energy carrier. For example, it must be stored at a temperature of -266 °C. This poses challenges for transport, storage, bunkering and fuelling. But we have tremendous expertise and experience from LNG that we can use in devising solutions,” says Økland.

Green fuels will cut 1.2 million metric tons of CO₂ along the Norwegian coastline

Ocean Hyway Cluster is running its own project, Hydrogen Infrastructure in the Maritime Industry (HyInfra), which focuses on compressed hydrogen, liquid hydrogen and ammonia.

“We have obtained a figure for how many metric tons of hydrogen we may need in Norway. We’ve dived all the way down to the timetable level to find out where hydrogen-powered vessels can be used, not counting the routes that can be covered by battery-powered ferries. Thus far, our analyses show a demand for 39 000 metric tons of hydrogen by 2035,” says Kvalsund.

Ocean Hyway and its project partners have mapped ferry and high-speed boat routes, shipping routes and offshore traffic along the Norwegian coastline that cannot be covered by battery-powered ferries – but can be covered by hydrogen vessels. They have given the authorities and players in the maritime sector a detailed roadmap of where and how infrastructure for hydrogen and ammonia should be built.

The Deep Purple project is developing a solution for stabilising offshore wind production with subsea storage of hydrogen.

Use of hydrogen and ammonia can reduce CO₂ emissions significantly.

“Our calculations show that we can reduce CO₂ emissions by 1.17 million metric tons by replacing vessels that run on fuel oil and natural gas with vessels powered by hydrogen and ammonia along the Norwegian coastline,” says Kristin Svardal, project manager of the HyInfra project.

Both Kvalsund and Svardal believe that Norway has a unique opportunity to build a sustainable and lucrative industry around hydrogen and ammonia.

“Norway has huge potential to become a leader in green marine fuels. We can produce hydrogen and ammonia with clean energy, we have leading maritime environments, and we possess tremendous expertise from the oil and gas industry.”

Kristin Svardal, Ocean Hyway Cluster

“There are still major challenges when it comes to scaling green fuels. We have a long way to go before they become a standard product, in terms of developing vessel components and the fuels themselves,” she points out, before concluding with a challenge:

“We’ve said we’re working towards a zero-emission society – but technology development is costly. We therefore need active policy with proactive strategies, such as allocating financial support and using public procurement muscle. We need stronger instruments to create and scale up markets for hydrogen and ammonia to make them profitable for the shipping industry.”