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Research into Converting Current Ships to Zero Carbon Operations

research decarbonizing current ships
(file photo)

Published May 12, 2021 4:38 PM by The Maritime Executive

While the maritime industry is focusing on the development of a new generation of vessels to achieve the decarbonization goals, one of the big challenges is how to incorporate the existing global fleet to reduce emissions and how shipowners can protect the current investments to ensure the ships they are building today remain productive in the transition to a global zero carbon fleet. The Mærsk Mc-Kinney Møller Center for Zero Carbon Shipping announced that it will lead a project with leaders from the industry to assess the technical and financial considerations for converting current vessels into future zero-carbon operations.

“In order to accelerate the investments in a zero-carbon maritime value chain, we have to reduce the risk of stranded assets,” says Claus Winter Graugaard, Head of Onboard Vessel Solutions for the Mærsk Mc-Kinney Møller Center for Zero Carbon Shipping. “With this project, we will address that challenge by providing clarity and overview of the operational fuel and technology options, their associated environmental and financial impact as well as their transition pathways.” 

The project will assess conversion options and de-risk asset investments by analyzing the emission reduction potential as well as the techno-economic opportunity of converting vessels currently fueled by fossil-based fuels to zero or neutral carbon fuel solutions. In addition, the project will identify several technical modifications of relevance for today’s new buildings to reduce the cost of future conversions, thus minimizing the associated financial risk for shipowners.

“This is a vitally important piece of work for the industry,” said Georgios Plevrakis, ABS Director, Global Sustainability. “We are assessing the opportunities and consequences of converting ships from fossil-based fuels to zero or neutral carbon fuel solution, which is something every shipowner and operator urgently needs actionable insight into. This project will turn the industry’s decarbonization ambitions into a series of actionable steps, a pathway for each vessel type to carbon-free operations,” 

The project partners, which include American Bureau of Shipping, A.P. Moller – Maersk, MAN Energy Solutions, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, NYK Line, Seaspan Corporation, and Total, will address various vessel types including containerships, tankers, and bulk carriers, and their potential conversion from conventional fuel oil, or integration with more recent fuels such LNG and LPG, to enable pathways with future solutions such as Ammonia or Methanol as well as the application of onboard Carbon Capture and Storage.

“To accelerate the transition to carbon-neutral or zero-carbon fuels, it is not enough to focus solely on newbuilt dual-fuel vessels. We must also look into retrofitting existing vessels in our fleet to operate on carbon-neutral or zero-carbon fuels,” said Ole Graa Jakobsen, Head of Fleet Technology, A.P. Moller – Maersk. “With our participation in this project, we want to investigate retrofit possibilities for existing vessels enabling dual-fuel operation on either methanol or ammonia as well as conventional fuel oil.”

For each pathway, the related safety aspects will be reviewed. The financial assessment will cover items such as conversion, technology, and fuel costs as well as associated operating costs, while the environmental assessment will, among other things, cover the Green House Gas reduction potential over the lifetime of a vessel.

The critical nature of the project is highlighted by the durability of the ships. For example, the industry trade association BIMCO recently reported that the average age of bulkers extended to 28 or 29 years before the ships were being sent to scrappers. Tankers typically operate for 20 or more years, while the cruise industry which has a record orderbook typically operates its ships for 30 or more years.

“Through the long experience in developing highly efficient and state of the art designed vessels, and also as a supplier of marine machinery equipped to more than 50 percent of existing deep-sea vessels in the globe, we, MHI Group are very glad to contribute to global environment improvement not only for today’s urgent issues of EEXI and CII, but also decarbonization of existing vessels through this challenging ‘Conversion Optionality Study’ with the excellent partners,” said Tomoo Kuzu, Senior Executive Vice President of Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Marine Machinery & Equipment Co.

The project is facilitated by the Mærsk Mc-Kinney Møller Center for Zero Carbon Shipping and fully funded by the involved parties.