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Horizons article 07 July 2021

The allure of green fuels looks to end shipping’s loveless marriage with oil

  • Marine energy transition
  • Nuclear
Issue 58
Hydrogen oil.

As steam replaced sail at the turn of the 20th Century, green energy is set to be the major disruptor that ends oil’s long-term relationship with shipping.

While shipping has had many strained relationships over the years with regulators, banks and customers, it is the ‘marriage of convenience’ with oil that is likely to end in tears, as owners are now tempted by the alluring charms of green fuels. Hydrogen is the latest flavour of the month, bursting onto the shipping scene with adoring suitors queueing up to proclaim their devotion to ‘H’. However, the new darling of shipping will be expensive to maintain as it is costly to produce and requires an enormous amount of energy to make.

The much-touted renewable energy sources such as solar and wind do not have the energy density needed to make hydrogen in sufficient quantities to meet shipping’s needs. Hydrogen when made with oil and gas, is worse than no hydrogen at all. Challenges of delivering the green wave So how does the shipping industry meet the ‘carved in stone’ goals of the IMO to cut CO2 emissions by at least 40% to pre-2008 levels by 2030, rising to a 70% reduction by 2050. On top of that the IMO has mandated a reduction of total annual GHG emissions from international shipping of at least 50% by 2050 when compared to 2008. Time is not the friend of shipping in reaching these targets and green promises need to be supported with scientific facts. The science tells us that we cannot produce sufficient quantities of hydrogen from solar panels and wind turbines to meet shipping’s needs. To misquote Bob Dylan – only a small part of the answer my friend, is blowing in the wind.

"This new era of advanced atomic technology engineering allows us to create hope for shipping as well."
Mikal Bøe, founder and chief executive at Core-Power.

Mikal Bøe

Founder and chief executive, Core-Power

The only realistic option

The real deal for a sustainable long-term partnership is between advanced atomic energy and shipping to produce green hydrogen, green ammonia and synthetic fuels. That technology, which can deliver emission free, long term, sustainable energy to produce synthetic fuels is best represented by the Molten Salt Reactors (MSR). What we are now building taps into an almost limitless fuel supply with massive energy density so we can keep up with our world’s energy demands as we grow. It will consume almost all its energy leaving the tiniest amount of residue and will emit nothing at all. 

This new era of advanced atomic technology engineering allows us to create hope for shipping as well. Think differently now. Think how advanced atomic would play a vital role not just in decarbonising shipping but where shipping itself is a key component of decarbonising heavy industry. Think vertical environmental integration. Think cheap green hydrogen, straight from seawater, round the clock no matter the weather.

Making green fuel from the sea and air

Floating production is the ideal setting for green fuels and water desalination. It requires no site license, it is scalable, it is flexible, it is movable, it is exportable and it is surrounded by water and air – all the raw material we need to make clean water, green hydrogen and green ammonia. No oil drilling, no smoky oil refining, no combustion, no emissions. Think of one floating green fuels refinery producing over 1 million metric tons green ammonia per year at a cost competitive with bunker fuel. Global demand for green ammonia just from shipping should hit 150 million tons by 2035. The orderbook for shipyard construction of these plants is a tantalising prospect.

Each of these floating refineries could be a consortium involving an advanced atomic operator, a plant processing operator, a maritime asset manager, a ship manager and an off taker, maybe even an oil company? This represents the largest disruptive technology opportunity for shipping. Oil is facing an existential challenge. We all want to live forever. By thinking differently, this is how it can be done.

BMT design.

Collective benefits