Connect with us

Hi, what are you looking for?


What will power ocean vessels under IMO 2050?

HOUSTON — Four years ago at CERAWeek, discussion of marine fuels focused on IMO 2020, which at that point was looming for full implementation of its tighter sulfur levels the following year. 

But the calendar for what to talk about at this year’s CERAWeek by S&P Global conference has moved ahead by an additional 30 years, with the International Maritime Organization’s 2050 regulations now the topic for several panels at the giant energy meeting in Houston. 

IMO 2020 is now in effect. IMO 2050 is starting to impact oceangoing shipping already, with its requirements for ships to be graded on their carbon intensity launched this year. 

The present regulations for IMO 2050 call on greenhouse gas emissions from international shipping to be cut by 50% or more by 2050. The baseline year is 2008. Carbon intensity in shipping — which is measured differently than a straight emissions regulation — is to be cut by 40% by 2030 with a target reduction of 70% by 2050.

References to IMO 2050 at other sessions at CERAWeek noted that the guidelines are not final and could be revised later this year.

Longer term — and it isn’t all that far off — the question becomes just what will be the fuels that will power the ships of the future operating under the mandates of IMO 2050. And at a panel on CERAWeek about IMO 2050, methanol received a heavy dose of support from one panelist. 

Brooke Vandygriff, chief operations officer at HIF USA, a producer of hydrogen from wind power (known as green hydrogen), said the battle over IMO 2050 was a “horse race, but I believe methanol made from green hydrogen is in the pole position.” Hydrogen is a chemical component of methanol.

And while that opinion would not be viewed as surprising coming from a producer of green hydrogen, Vandygriff said methanol has a major advantage over other IMO 2050-compliant fuels in that “it is compatible with the infrastructure we have today.”

“We can make green methanol products now so you don’t have to struggle with the trillions of dollars of infrastructure changes all over the world,” she said. 

But Vandygriff’s views were not endorsed by other members of the panel, who leaned more into the idea of multiple sources providing IMO 2050-compliant fuels. 

Margaux Moore, head of the energy transition research group at Trafigura, said the “biggest barrier” to wider adoption of low-carbon fuels in marine shipping is availability. And given that, “we will need all, ammonia, methanol, any way of producing hydrogen-based fuels that can run ships and make sure we are meeting the targets.”

Ammonia is hydrogen-based. But as an article on its adoption as a ship fuel published last year in IEEE Spectrum said, “no vessels of any size today are equipped to use the fuel.”

“In order to get to the targets, we need to be able to pick and choose one or the other,” Moore said. “We must adopt all the low-carbon fuels that are in the space.”

Another twist is that ships are far from equal, said Christopher Wiernicki, the chairman, president and CEO of the American Bureau of Shipping. And that is going to require a mix. 

Given its characteristics, like the ability to be burned now as a transportation fuel in shipping, “this could be methanol’s moment in the short game,” Wiernicki said, noting that ammonia engines are coming online and in general the orderbook for new ships is reflecting a variety of options. 

Moore agreed with the idea of a mix of fuels as the solution to meeting the targets of IMO 2050 and expects the primary region for producing hydrogen-based low-carbon fuels such as methanol to be located in the “global south,” which she said has “the best renewable potential and we want to focus on those areas.”

Moore also said she expects that engine technology will likely evolve so that most ship engines will be able to run on two fuels. “It’s not a one shoe fits all.” 

That sort of development — if, for example, an engine could run on both ammonia and methanol — would be somewhat of an opposite development from what Vandygriff said she foresaw: the shipping industry turning to methanol made from green hydrogen as the solution to the demands of IMO 2050.

Wiernicki and other panelists said the issue of hydrogen and hydrogen-based fuels in shipping is not just a story of what is going to power ships. It is also a matter of what the shipping industry is going to need to do to rise to the challenge of moving methanol, ammonia or other products around the world in the same way.

“What is the best way to carry a hydrogen molecule?” Wiernicki said, explaining it can be carried as methanol, ammonia or as pure hydrogen, “and that is the discussion going on.”

Refrigerated trailers are California’s next emissions target; Ndustrial gets ready

It’s all hydrogen: CERAWeek focuses on potential fuel of the future

CARB clear on lack of changes in California Clean Fleets rule