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What is the similarity between a weightlifter and a ship?

20 June 2019

Both are running on ammonia… Yes, that might be a joke in the future. Much indicates that ammonia has the right qualities to be used as a marine fuel. Research is underway at Lighthouse.

In the search for future marine fuels, there is suddenly a lot of buzz about ammonia, Julia Hansson, researcher at the IVL Swedish Environmental Institute, says.  Within the framework of the Swedish Transport Administration's industry program Sustainable shipping together she and other researchers will look closer on this possible fuel in a Lighthouse prestudy.

”In the shipping industry, there has not been much done about ammonia as a fuel before, but now many stakeholders are interested in it”, Julia Hansson says.

Previously, Lloyd's Register, UMAS (University Maritime Advisory Services), MAN Energy Solutions and Alfa Laval, have focused on the subject's potential and on the day Lighthouse talks to Julia Hansson, Dutch C-Job Naval Architect releases the news of a study that shows that ammonia can work safe and efficient as a fuel. But more research and tests are required.

So why the uncertainty? Firstly, ammonia is currently produced mainly from fossil materials, which means that the substance contributes to carbon dioxide emissions even though it does not emit anything when burned. A change to a renewable production method is therefore needed.

”The opportunities for it are good, but it is of course a challenge in itself”, Julia Hansson says.

The preliminary study started with a student thesis by Josefin Lövdahl and Maria Magnusson. Their work shows that ammonia has a high potential, even when compared to other renewable fuels.

- Hydrogen gas is more cost-effective to manufacture today, but on the other hand it costs more to store than ammonia. If the production method is improved, the competitive advantages will of course be even greater. Another advantage of ammonia is that there is already some infrastructure in place because it is a chemical that is manufactured in large quantities, says Maria Magnusson.

Both hydrogen and ammonia can be used in internal combustion engines, but also with fuel cells.
However, there are some question marks.

”At present it is not known how large the nitrogen oxide emissions are when using ammonia in an internal combustion engine”, Josefin Lövdahl says.

Ammonia is also (like most fuels) a toxic product that is dangerous to inhale.

”It can be problematic”, Julia Hansson says.

The propulsion technique is also something that needs further investigation.

”According to the analyzes we have done, fuel cells seem to be more cost effective than internal combustion engines. But more tests have to be done. The cost of the technology must be reasonable for shipping”, Julia Hansson says.

While the thesis has mainly been a literature study, the prestudy will also be more practical.

”We will contact the shipping operators. Is this interesting for them? What are the difficulties? What is their time perspective on this?”

Footnote: The project The potential of ammonia as fuel for shipping includes researchers Julia Hansson (IVL), Selma Brynolf (Chalmers), Karin Andersson (Chalmers), Erik Fridell (IVL) and Maria Grahn (Chalmers). Wallenius Marine, Stena, Preem, Yara and Lighthouse also contribute. It runs until february 2020.

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