Japanese group explores ammonia as marine fuel

A cross-industry consortium of Japanese companies is considering launching ammonia-fuelled commercial vessels, as well as developing ammonia supply infrastructure in Japan, to provide the shipping industry with an alternative marine fuel to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Japanese shipbuilder Imabari Shipbuilding, engineering firm Mitsui E&S Machinery, trading house Itochu and its energy trading arm Itochu Enex have agreed to jointly develop commercial vessels equipped with an engine using ammonia as its main fuel. Japanese classification society ClassNK is participating to carry out a third-party safety assessment of such vessels.

Imabari will be responsible for their development and design. It has already been developing vessels fuelled with alternative marine fuels, such as LNG and LPG. The company is currently building an LNG-fuelled car carrier for planned late 2020 delivery. It has also completed concept designs for both LNG- and LPG-fuelled Capesize bulk carriers.

The consortium also includes MAN Energy Solutions, German auto producer Volkswagen’s large engines unit, which will play a role in developing an ammonia-fuelled engine for the project. Mitsui E&S Machinery, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Japanese engineering firm Mitsui E&S, will work with MAN to develop the engine.

Itochu plans to jointly develop a facility with Itochu Enex to fuel ammonia for ships, as well as to set up a distribution network. Ammonia will be supplied for the project by Itochu Enex.

Ammonia’s potential as an alternative marine fuel has attracted interest from the global shipping industry, which is aiming to reduce GHG emissions in line with the International Maritime Organisation’s (IMO) emissions reduction targets. The IMO’s strategy to halve the industry’s GHG emissions by 2050 includes a 40pc reduction in carbon dioxide emissions by 2030 and a 70pc cut by 2050 compared with 2008 levels.

Norway’s state-controlled Equinor earlier this year agreed with shipowner Eidesvik Offshore to modify the LNG-fuelled Viking Energy platform supply vessel to use ammonia as a fuel. The vessel is targeted to begin testing the use of ammonia as its fuel from 2024.

Chinese shipbuilder Dalian Shipbuilding Industry in late 2019 received Lloyd’s Register approval in principle for its concept design of an ammonia-fuelled 23,000 TEU container vessel. An international consortium including Malaysian shipowner MISC and South Korean shipbuilder Samsung Heavy Industries is also working to develop an ammonia-fuelled tanker.