• Melvin Mathews

Net-Zero emissions: what will the journey look like?






In recent months there has been significant discussion on the subject of net-zero emissions and what our journey there may look like. When it comes to the IMO 2020 emission regulation, not only do we have solutions for compliance in place, but in most cases we already have the technology available to meet the IMO 2030 Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emission reduction targets. Considering this, many in the industry are asking whether the IMO 2050 target of 50% reduction in GHG emissions is ambitious enough.


The case of Internal Combustion Engine (ICE) appears to be quite clear. Most alternate fuels, whether they are based on fossil-fuels, bio-fuels or synthetic-fuels, alcohols or ammonia, including hydrogen can all produce energy through an ICE. Hydrogen is the only exception which can be used in a fuel cell as well. Almost everybody appears to agree that ICE is here to stay, with fuel flexibility being the key enabler that makes it attractive.


With 1st January 2020 deadline being less than 60 days away, adoption of Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) as a marine fuel is set to accelerate. LNG provides the shipping industry with the opportunity for a “safe and scalable” fuel to meet global marine energy demands. Additionally, considering the ever-tightening IMO regulations, LNG seems to have the best chance of getting through to 2050 & beyond for the following reasons:

  • LNG as a fuel has been used in an ICE for a long time.

  • We know that in the maritime world LNG duel-fuel (DF) engines have been around since the 1980s.

  • 2011 was the year the first conversion from HFO to LNG was made.

  • Size is not a limitation with LNG system deployment, ultra large container ships of over 22,000 TEU have them installed.

  • When it comes to duel-fuel experience, there are over 5000 LNG DF engines & 50 million running hours on almost all ship types

  • The LNG bunkering landscape has changed too. The number of bunker vessels has grown exponentially– from one operating at the beginning of 2017 to eleven at present. There will likely be about 30 in operation within the next four to five years at key bunkering points in Asia, Europe, the Middle East, and North America.

  • LNG-fueled vessels and bunkering infrastructure can easily switch from fossil-LNG to bio-LNG, or synthetic-LNG, meaning that investment in LNG-fueled ships and bunkering infrastructure today does not lock the shipping industry into a high GHG emissions trajectory, LNG offers a bridge to a zero-carbon future.

  • The rate of LNG-fueled vessels in operation or on order has been growing by circa 20-40% year-on-year. As of January 2019, there are currently 278 confirmed LNG-fueled ships, and 139 additional LNG-ready ships either in operation or on order.

  • Because of the historic growth of LNG infrastructure worldwide, the concerns about the supply of LNG to the maritime community are being effectively addressed

  • All but one of the top 10 bunkering ports globally either already offer LNG bunkering or have firm plans to do so.

  • Of the top 25 global ports ranked by volume of trade, LNG is already available in bulk, or in close proximity to 24 of them – the challenges are the ‘last mile investments’ to bring the LNG to the ships and these are now being worked on.


Initially, the uptake of LNG as a marine fuel was hampered by the lack of legislation and the necessary infrastructure, however governments are showing support for the development of necessary infrastructure to sustain LNG’s viability as a marine fuel on a global scale. This can be seen in Europe with subsidies and the development of supportive regulations through programs such as CORELNGas hive (Spain and Portugal) and Poseidon Med II (Cyprus, Greece and Italy). In Asia, countries such as Japan, South Korea and Singapore are pioneering investments in port and bunkering vessel infrastructure. Over the last 24 months the rate at which Asian governments are endorsing LNG as a marine fuel has accelerated, with several LNG bunkering initiatives in operation or approved in major ports such as Fujairah and Singapore.


Methane slip is always brought up on the topic of LNG engines. However, there has been a 65% reduction in Total Hydrocarbon (THC) emissions in only 10 years and development towards further reduction continues. The future also allows for catalysts that will essentially completely remove the THC emissions from the exhaust of an engine, in a manner similar to diesel engines which require a catalyst (or EGR) to reduce their NOx emissions to levels required by IMO Tier III regulation.


At the moment there are no alternative solutions that can match LNG’s emissions profile and scalability. In addition to immediate local air quality and GHG emissions benefits, LNG offers a commercially viable long-term bridging solution to a zero-emissions shipping industry. As this becomes increasingly apparent, it is believed that the case for LNG on an economic and environmental basis is perhaps the best way forward now.


There is no doubt that alternative propulsion systems such as fuel-cell and battery systems along with wind and solar systems are attracting interest and growing media attention. These alternative systems may prove to be long-term zero-emission technology solutions for the shipping industry, however, they are not ready now and will require huge investments by industry and governments over decades to realize their potential. We must remember that LNG as a marine fuel took a long period of testing and development of technologies covering the whole supply chain which finally resulted in the adoption of the IGF code in 2015, over 30 years later.


 In recent engagements with about 100 shipowners, one message comes through loud and clear. What shipowners & operators want is operational flexibility when it comes to fuel. They wanted the choice to be able use any fuel in their main engines & auxiliary engines depending on location, availability, cost and compliance requirements. In short, an engine with minor adjustment that can process the entire range of ICE fuels, i.e., LSFO, MGO, LNG, bio fuels, synthetic fuels, alcohol, ammonia & if feasible even hydrogen.


The question is – who will build this multi-fuel engine?



Let me know your thoughts.

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