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Electricity? Methanol? LNG? Fuel of choice for future is unknown

LAST week's column discussed the claim by environmental campaign group Transport & Environment (T&E) that natural gas is a "US$22 billion distraction for EU shipping that won't decarbonise the sector".

It seems SEA\LNG, the multi-sector industry coalition aiming to accelerate the widespread adoption of liquefied natural gas (LNG) as a marine fuel, also noticed T&E's statement; while not actually mentioning the critical T&E assessment of LNG, the coalition spelled out its view of how critical continuing investment in LNG as a marine fuel is to meeting both air-quality and greenhouse-gas (GHG) emissions targets.

SEA\LNG said its statement is aimed at ensuring that industry and governments "make a pragmatic and balanced analysis of the future of maritime fuels".

T&E had attacked expensive investment in LNG infrastructure on the grounds that it was not an effective way of reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, but SEA\LNG asserted: "Assessing the case for LNG must include the full benefits from both an air-quality and GHG perspective.

"Assessing it purely from a GHG point of view is not responsible - we must consider the significant public health benefits LNG can and is delivering now, through significant local emissions reductions in markets where it is being utilised."

The group said the maritime industry has been working for decades to ease the air-quality issues around the globe. It argued: "This serious health hazard still persists and must continue to be addressed. LNG is ready now as an unrivalled solution to these critical air-quality issues. LNG far outperforms conventional marine fuels in terms of dramatically reducing local emissions to improve air quality and human health. LNG emits zero sulphur oxides (SOx) and virtually zero particulate matter (PM). Compared to existing heavy marine fuel oils, LNG emits 90 per cent less nitrogen oxides (NOx) emissions."

SEA\LNG also responded strongly to the claim that LNG was not "a bridging fuel" on the way to zero emissions. It said: "As regards GHG in the maritime sector, realistic reductions of up to 20 per cent are achievable now with LNG. As technology continues to develop, these reductions will increase. Furthermore, LNG, in combination with efficiency measures being developed for new ships in response to the Energy Efficiency Design Index (EEDI) of the International Maritime Organization (IMO), will provide a way of meeting the IMO's decarbonisation target of a 40 per cent decrease by 2030 for international shipping."

The 'only scalable and economic fuel'

Hammering home its point SEA\LNG claimed: "Today, LNG is the only scalable and economic alternative fuel available for the vast majority of deep-sea ocean shipping. Alternative fuels such as hydrogen and ammonia are not economic, not available at scale, and unproven for shipping operations. They are called future fuels for a reason!"

It continued that while electrification, batteries and hybrid solutions on the other hand may be viable for certain specific short-sea, harbour or ferry-type operations, it represents an almost infinitesimal portion of the world's vessel fuel consumption. Well, that may be true, but just a few short years ago, LNG was only seen as being a fuel for LNG carriers.

There is another fuel that has its proponents - methanol. Chief among the supporters of methanol as a marine fuel is the Methanol Institute (MI) which serves as the trade association for the global methanol industry; it has an office in Singapore.

The MI has welcomed a recent decision by the IMO to invite the International Organization for Standardisation (ISO) to develop a standard for methyl/ethyl alcohol, as a marine fuel and a standard for methyl/ethyl alcohol fuel couplings.

The MI said in a statement: "The decision, taken at the 99th session of the IMO's Maritime Safety Committee (MSC 99) is a significant step forward in the recognition of methanol as a marine fuel that already meets IMO's 2020 regulations and provides a pathway for very low carbon fuels in future."

There will be clashes over where investment in new fuels should go. That is inevitable, but these are exciting times with many developments taking place. In 10 years, the whole marine fuel scene is likely to look significantly different. You would, though, need a very good crystal ball to predict which fuels will emerge the winners.