Op-Ed: Why LNG is a Starting Point for a Zero Carbon Future

zeebrugge uecc
LNG bunkering at the port of Zeebrugge (file image)

Published Sep 15, 2020 7:42 PM by Peter Keller

Progress requires action, and the pathway to decarbonization requires action now. Waiting for utopian solutions does not solve existing problems that only get worse with time. By choosing LNG as a marine fuel today, we are moving the dial forward in terms of reducing carbon emissions in shipping; setting a clear course towards a near zero carbon future by putting in the groundwork for the uptake of liquid bio LNG and, in due course, liquid synthetic methane (LSM). 

This future-proofs today’s investments and ensures that current investments in LNG capable vessels and bunkering infrastructure continue to pay dividends by underpinning the global transition to a near zero carbon future. The good news for the shipping industry and our future generations is that this is a reality that has already begun and today’s assets have a robust future.   

Availability and cost

A recent study by CE Delft shows the potential for large scale Bio-LNG supply. And the fuel is already available in smaller quantities at various global locations. Bio-LNG is being used today by Finnish gas supplier Gasum, which bunkered ESL Shipping’s dry bulk carrier Viiki with 100 percent renewable Bio LNG in June 2020. Other customers are also working with this product too. The beauty of Bio-LNG is that it can be blended with LNG, and as a "drop in" fuel at levels of around 20 percent appears to be competitive with Rotterdam MGO prices published in late August. 

With LNG as the base fuel, there are no changes required on board the vessel to start blending Bio-LNG, and even a small blend ratio can deliver significant GHG reductions. The peer reviewed independent study conducted by thinkstep (now Sphera) last year showed that this 20 percent level of Bio-LNG as a drop-in fuel can reduce GHG by a further 13 percent. As the same study showed up to 21 percent reduction in well-to-wake GHG emissions achieved through switching from HFO to LNG, a 34 percent reduction is already in reach.  

Future proofing investment 

This ability to offer a de-risked, "future-proofed" pathway is why LNG dual-fuel engines have a vital role in accelerating decarbonization of the shipping sector. Not only do they enable GHG reductions to be achieved now but they offer a realistic, lower investment, near zero carbon pathway. This pathway has been proven with little or no modifications through the use of Bio-LNG and, in the future, LSM as drop-in fuels. These fuels can be transported, stored and bunkered in ports utilizing existing LNG infrastructure. 

Further positive news for shipping is that dual-fuel internal combustion engine technology advancement means that ship owners have flexibility and optionality in future fuel choice. Technology advancements have also dramatically reduced methane slip, as has recently been reported. These advances, which need to be integrated into the industry databases used to calculate emissions reductions, will continue to mitigate slip. Moreover, new generation LNG dual fuel engines could use a small percentage of other developing alternative fuels with minimal, if any, retrofitting required, guaranteeing the value of the vessel asset over its full lifespan.

The circular economy

Bio-LNG has additional advantages when it is produced from domestic and agricultural waste. With an approach grounded in the circular economy, waste can be reprocessed, contributing to the abatement of waste management - another global environmental challenge. The process can capture methane that would otherwise have been emitted into the atmosphere, resulting in an energy source that is not merely a zero carbon fuel, but has the potential to be carbon negative. 

Beyond Bio-LNG, future growth in renewable electricity is likely to make LSM a viable alternative to other synthetic fuels and one which can use the existing global LNG infrastructure. Later this year, shipowner Wessels Marine will be piloting the use of LSM in its LNG-fuelled container feeder Wes Amelie. The LSM will be supplied from a new liquefaction plant being built at car manufacturer Audi’s power-to-gas factory in Wertle in north Germany.

The future starts now

The evolution to cleaner maritime fuels is already well under way as consumers across the world have a greater awareness of environmental issues and the impact on world health, as well as GHG emissions. Many companies, across multiple sectors, are already firmly committed to pursuing the LNG pathway to decarbonization. They recognize that – when it comes to progress - if we stand still, we only fall back. 

Carbon reduction, as well as local emissions reduction to improve human health, should and can start now. By waiting for an ultimate, and likely costly, solution we simply make the problem worse. Inaction is not a plan. Taking decisive action now and making investment decisions in favor of LNG fuel technology and infrastructure will accelerate progress.

Peter Keller is the chairman of SEA-LNG, an industry association advocating for a global LNG marine fuel value chain.

The opinions expressed herein are the author's and not necessarily those of The Maritime Executive.