‘We are adopting fuel-flexibility approach regarding future fuels’

Mr Sachin Kulkarni – Head of Sales, Marine Power (South Asia), Wärtsilä shares his views with Future Fuels on how his company has been spearheading shipping’s decarbonisation efforts, and what needs to be done to accelerate lower emissions in the maritime industry.

What is the engine technical solutions Wartsila offers to ship owners for green fuel transition?

We know there are particular uncertainties around future fuels – such as when and where they will be available and at what price. However, one thing remains certain: investing in fuel flexibility and – where appropriate – retrofitting & upgrading existing vessels, offers a hedge against any potential risk.

Our approach to Sustainable Fuels & Decarbonisation in Marine is to remain fuel agnostic. Instead of predicting what fuels will be available, we are adopting an approach of full-flexibility regarding future fuels and green technologies. 

The engines we are currently designing reflect this by being able to run on a variety of fuel blends.

Wärtsilä is also investing continuously in the development of new technology, and this is our current future fuel roadmap in summary.

CH4 Bio- or Synthetic methane: Contains about 99% methane and can readily be used in liquid form with equipment made for LNG.

MeOH Methanol: A methanol conversion package is available for the ZA40 engine and we have many years of experience running methanol successfully on the ICE. 

Industrialised technology achieved – product development applied to W32 engine series, currently on the market. The next step is to industrialise this technology on the other relevant portfolio engines according to market needs – this work is currently underway and products will be brought to market accordingly.

NH3 Ammonia: We have developed engine technologies capable of running on Ammonia blend.

The needed combustion concepts to maximise engine performance and related safety technologies are currently being investigated.  Given today’s development and current estimates, Wärtsilä will have a technical concept available within 2023.

H2 Hydrogen: Our gas engines are currently able to blend LNG with up to 25% hydrogen, and combustion concepts made for 100% hydrogen.

Our future efforts will be directed towards maximising engine performance.

However, Infrastructure & availability of green fuels need time to mature – the Multi-fuel (DF) Engine is an excellent fuel-flexible choice for future peace-of-mind. The reason for this is 3-fold:

• 3 separate fuel injection systems: 1 liquid pilot, 1 liquid and 1 gas fuel injection system – provide additional flexibility and the means to use fuels in either liquid or gaseous form

• Diesel & Otto combustion cycles: can be used individually or in so-called fuel-sharing mode (e.g., 50% diesel, 50% gas) providing the flexibility to optimize performance and emissions per fuel type

• The Multi-fuel (DF) engine makes it easier to introduce new fuels in an economically viable way, by preserving performance while reducing emissions.

As the supplier of complete solutions regardless of fuel, we will have fuel storage and supply-systems for most future fuels and are as well positioned in this regard as we are with our fuel-flexible engine technologies.

What are the main challenges in the transition to zero carbon – and what solutions have caught your attention?

Considering IMO CO2 targets for 2030, it is quite clear that compliance can be achieved in the short term by optimizing vessel operations, retrofitting solutions to achieve a stepwise approach to decarbonisation and introducing slower speeds.

The challenge we have is that there are many different options and no consensus today on which of the future fuels will be commercially available. Commercial availability depends on various factors like geographic location, national interests & legislations, and the availability of feedstock.

These uncertainties create business risks regarding fuel availability, increased CAPEX / OPEX, vessel design / structure / storage & handling, including complexities in managing cryogenic requirements & toxicity.

Then we also have the timing issue: when should one make the investment & go for another fuel? We only have a limited amount of shipyard capacity in the world, so it would not be possible / feasible to upgrade all commercial vessels at the same time.

In addition to global CO2 emissions, local emissions and the effects of energy production to local surroundings should also be considered. Finding the balance between local and global emissions will be another factor affecting fuel development and discussion. Even with carbon-free fuels, exhaust after treatment will be needed to reduce emissions and prevent the deterioration of local air quality.

The availability of future fuels is the main uncertainty. By investing in DF technology and LNG as fuel, the ship owner will have several options to transition to the future.

Wärtsilä is recommending an approach of being fuel agnostic and our product development will support this.  LNG capability will provide possibilities to start using bio and synthetic methane, while the liquid fuel injection system can be converted or even replaced, depending on pilot fuel needs, fuel amounts, etc., to use e.g. methanol or ammonia. The fuel tanks are the most difficult to replace and flexibility can be ensured via the selection of tank material or by facilitating future replacement through the vessel design.  

Electrification is another solution, enabling reduction in carbon foot print on board. e.g. Wärtsilä Hybrid solution delivers tangible values such as – lower fuel consumption, reduced noise & vibration level, greater operational flexibility, lower maintenance, minimized exhaust emissions, smokeless operations, enhanced system redundancy.

By carefully choosing a new engine, with the latest technologies and with the best efficiency, it will have a positive impact on emissions and will have a reduction in GHG emissions.

The goal is to have enough power output with as low fuel consumption as possible. Best is to use less fuel in the first place.

Traditionally bunker has been costly for Indian tonnage due to its tax structure. Considering that eco-friendly fuels will initially be costly compared to bunker fuels, how do you suggest should be the transition from conventional bunker to green fuels?

There is no one single future fuel – there will be a whole variety of fuels in use.

Every owner, business operation & region is different, which changes the propensity for various fuels. Investing in a combustion engine which will support fuel flexibility will mitigate compliance and business risks introduced by future fuels.

Green synthetic fuels are not expected to become widely available to the shipping industry before 2040. Converting all IMO-classed ships to accept carbon-neutral fuels will take many years considering the limited shipyard capacity

LNG can already reduce the GHG footprint by -5 to -21% and can enable decarbonisation when mixed with biomethane or green synthetic methane without changes to the vessel.

Introducing LNG as a transition fuel is the first step towards decarbonising the shipping industry. Fossil LNG can be seamlessly mixed and replaced by Bio-LNG and in the future also Synthetic LNG made from renewable hydrogen.

A key aspect in this is that the supply chain for LNG is rapidly maturing. There are of course other options, but for a large-scale implementation a supply chain, mature fuel storage technology, safety rules and experience and also economical aspects play a vital role.

While it’s still early days in fuel transition, do you foresee a single alternative fuel replacing the fossil fuels, or do you expect a variety of fuels to emerge in market as alternatives?

There is no one single future fuel – there will be a variety of fuels in use. Every owner, business operation & region is different, which changes the propensity for various fuels.

When we are talking about Green Fuels, it means they are synthetically made, based on hydrogen, and are produced by using renewable energy.

First, we have Green Hydrogen, an essential element in most synthetic fuels. In short-sea shipping with strict emissions legislation and frequent bunker opportunities it can offset low energy density.

Hydrogen is going to play an important role in building other fuels, for example green ammonia.

Green Ammonia will be one of the main fuels that we will see in the future. This fuel will require additional investment from the toxicity point of view and the way it is dealt with. For this reason, we see challenges for passenger vessels, due to its relatively low energy density by volume, it will be most suited to vessels that don’t have space limitations.

Green Methanol is also of interest for the future, mainly due to the ease-of-storage on board. It doesn’t have any specific requirements, doesn’t need to be stored at low temperatures or under pressure, and allows for more flexibility when it comes to tank design and location on the vessel.

Let’s also have a look at biofuels.

It is important to point out that we only consider sustainable fuels, i.e., waste that doesn’t compete with food production.

Green biomethane is interesting since the end result is the same as LNG. likely the most economical alternative due to maturity of technology, fuel availability, existing rules & regulations, availability of feedstock, and higher carbon efficiency than biodiesel. Can be used as a drop-in alternative to natural gas.

Green synthetic methane uses green hydrogen and CO2. Same as biomethane, we can use it directly in our LNG packs and engines. 

The main uncertainty relates to carbon capture technology. Due to the low concentration of CO2 in air, the only likely economically viable solution will be capturing CO2 in exhaust gases from the combustion of biofuels (not fossil fuels).  

Biodiesel, (first and second generation) can be used today in diesel engines without the need for additional investment, provided they comply with the fuel specification. 

We need to be careful when mixing bio-fuels with some fossil diesel due to potential compatibility issues between certain types of bio and fossil diesels.

Variations in local availability & price are the main challenges, as there will be competition from other industries that are ready to pay a premium.

It is important to note the energy density: i.e., what kind of operating range we can achieve with the same volume of alternative fuels. 

For example, if you can operate for 30 days on a tank of Diesel, you will only manage a week with the same volume of Hydrogen.

So, we believe that:

  • Diesel will remain fuel in the maritime industry for some time to come
  • LNG remains an important transition/bridging fuel
  • LPG can also have a role as a transition fuel, but lacks the availability of LNG
Tags: Ammonia, Biofuels, Decarbonisation, dualfuel, Green fuels, Green Hydrogen, Marine Power, Methanol, South Asia, Wartsila
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