DNV GL calls for fuel flexibility in shipping’s decarbonisation

DNV GL calls for fuel flexibility in shipping’s decarbonisation

Classification society DNV GL has called on the shipping industry for fuel-flexibility to boost its efforts in decarbonising the industry towards the IMO’s 2050 greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reduction goal.

Reducing GHG emissions by at least 50 per cent by 2050 compared to 2008 levels as set by the IMO, requires the industry to adopt low and zero-carbon fuels. A wider and more diverse choice of low-carbon renewable fuels are becoming more readily available, but typically possesses different properties and characteristics to traditional bunker fuels. In order to understand the operational requirements of these fuel and to prepare ships for bunkering them, owners, operators and the entire industry must work together to deliver ships and systems that are capable of operating with various types of fuels.

“One of the key components to meet the decarbonisation challenge is fuel flexibility, as the fuels of today may not be the fuels of tomorrow,” says Knut Ørbeck-Nilssen, CEO of DNV GL – Maritime. He believes the industry needs to have a clear picture of the entire fuel ecosystem to enable a smooth transition to a low-carbon future.

The transition to low-emission or zero-carbon fuels will not happen overnight and time is required to develop the fuels themselves and to scale up the production capacity and infrastructure.  In the classification society’s third edition of its Maritime Forecast to 2050 report, released earlier this week as part of London International Shipping Week 2019 (LISW), it sets out a ‘bridging philosophy’ that is based on a gradual transition from traditional bunker fuels to more sustainable, low carbon fuels, and to carbon neutral fuels. The bridging philosophy aims to ensure as smooth a transition as possible to low and zero carbon marine fuels by deploying fuel-flexible energy converters, fuel-flexible storage tanks and onboard systems allowing fuel switching, and flexible shore-side fuel infrastructure.

The bridging philiosophy according to DNV GL. It aims to prepare the maritime industry for adapting to new fuels and technologies to meet ambitious IMO GHG emissions targets. Image courtesy of DNV GL

The first pillar of the bridging philosophy is fuel-flexible energy converters. DNV GL notes that shipowners investing in energy converters, such as engines and fuel storage systems, rather than the fuel itself, will bring better benefits for owners in the long-term.

These converters must be able to optimise the performance of different fuel types under a variety of operating conditions. According to DNV GL, a fuel-flexible energy converter could allow for a gradual transition from internal combustion engines to low-carbon fuel alternatives that are already being used. For example, some two-stroke fuel-fuel engines can be used to process several fuels such as ethanol, methanol, LPG, LNG as well as heavy fuel oil (HFO) with some minor engine and fuel supply system modifications. Even biofuels may be used as they can be used as a drop-in or blended with traditional fuels.

“Ships built today will have to compete with vessels coming onto the market in five, ten or 15 years’ time, and must consider future standards to remain competitive,” said Mr Ørbeck-Nilssen. “Considering the uncertain future that lies ahead, failing to be future-proof in the newbuilding phase could lead to that asset being stranded in the not so distant future. In addition, CO2 emissions could become an important rate differentiator and we have already seen forward-looking charterers start down this road.”

For these reasons, the classification society urges shipowners investing in the next 5-10 years to consider dual-fuel combustion engines. This is particularly applicable to deep-sea shippers who are less likely to make use of battery and fuel cell technology due to the weight and storage requirements of batteries to fuel ships of such size. The figure below illustrates the current status of alternative fuels uptake, showing the car/passenger ferry vessel dominating the battery market, while larger ship types including bulk carriers and container ships opting for LNG or LNG-ready vessels.

Uptake of alternative fuels by ships in operation and on order from May 2019. Image courtesy of DNV GL

DNV GL’s bridging philosophy also includes fuel-flexible storage tanks and onboard systems. This means having systems that enable smooth fuel switching and the ability to handle various types of fuels. Compatibility may be straightforward with some fuels such as LNG and MGO, whereas for fuel such as H2 and NH3, compatibility is more limited and may require significant retrofits. For this reason, DNV GL recommends the consideration of features that could be easily retrofitted with alternative ‘fuel-ready’ solutions when designing newbuilds.

Flexibility to operate with new and alternative low carbon fuels is not limited to onboard technology. On shore infrastructure must also be part of the thought process in shipping’s decarbonisation. Ships need to be able to access alternative fuels in port. While some fuels can be produced by existing port infrastructure, others may require modifications. Planning for this now could reduce complexities and barriers to adoption in the future.

The most crucial aspect of fuel-flexibility is that it opens the owner or operator up to a wider choice of fuels that are both available now or have yet to enter the market. A vessel built now may be able to use the most competitive fuel available, but over the vessel’s lifetime, the fuel it initially started using may become less competitive. According to DNV GL, this is a key reason for keeping the bridging philosophy in mind when designing a ship, allowing it to have that flexibility when transitioning to another fuel type that may be more competitive for the owner later in its lifetime. This avoids the risk of it becoming a stranded asset, says DNV GL.

A bridging philosophy is expected to have significant benefits for policymakers that are tasked with delivering rapid decarbonisation of the shipping industry. According to DNV GL, gradual transitions and incentivising shipowners to invest in flexible ships, could give policymakers a larger toolbox for meeting the challenge.

DNV GL’s full Maritime Forecast to 2050 can be downloaded here: https://eto.dnvgl.com/2019/download