‘We are making this transition for a better world’

Dr Sanjay C Kuttan, Chief Technology Officer, Global Centre for Maritime Decarbonisation (GCMD) in an exclusive interview with Future Fuels, throws light on the energy transition challenges in maritime industry and   the efforts being made by GCMD for the decarbonisation.

Q. What is Global Centre for Maritime Decarbonisation (GCMD)? What does it do to help decarbonising the maritime industry?

GCMD was established on August 1, 2021, and it was born out of the recommendation made by the International advisory panel on decarbonisation that was set up by Maritime Port Authority of Singapore (MPA). This recommendation was made to the government last year at the last Singapore maritime week. Six companies have come forward to fund for setting up this centre. The companies include BW, BHP, DNV Foundation, Eastern Pacific Shipping, Ocean Network Express (ONE) and Sembcorp Marine, and each one of them put $10 million together with MPA putting matching $60 million over the next five years. The mission of GCMD is really around shaping standards, deploying solutions, financing projects, and bringing the community of stakeholders in the maritime sector together to really move forward with one voice in relation to decarbonization. At the centre of everything we do is really about pilot and demonstration of technologies which are in the pre-commercial stage but looking for platform to demonstrate their value to the industry. As we are not for profit organization all the lessons will be shared with the maritime community so that every one can move forward together.

Q. What do you think are the challenges or barriers for moving towards decarbonisation?

First thing is the maritime sector is not homogeneous but heterogeneous in nature. It not only varies in terms of vessel type but also in its use case where some are containers, some are liquid bulk, and some are dry bulk, and the routes are different form different ports. So, the first challenge a lot ship owners are asking us is which low carbon fuel should I begin to use, because not all low carbon fuels are available at all ports, and not all low carbon fuels have reached production levels that is high enough that they can be assured of supply and not all low carbon fuels are compatible with current fuels as well. So, there are multiple challenges that a ship owner or ship operator has to consider before he makes a decision, because once you build the vessel it is going to be around for 20 or 25 years. The entire supply chain needs to move together, it’s like a chicken and egg situation. Do the ports build infrastructure to cater to a vessel that comes once a month or the vessels change their entire propulsion system and look for port to refuel? We need this collaborative nature of solving the maritime decarbonisation challenge which requires all stakeholders to move together so there is sufficient de-risking across the value chain.

Q. In the context of several alternative fuels making their way to the market, which fuel do you think will prevail in the changing scenario? 

You look at the variables that one has to deal with in deploying new fuels. The first thing is the deployment infrastructure and current engines. It would be unreasonable for everyone to write off this infrastructure just to cater new cryogenic fuels. Therefore, if you look at biofuels, they can actually use current infrastructure and can be deployed quite easily to meet the near-term targets as a drop in fuel and that is the easiest path today. One of the big challenges is people say there is not enough production of biofuels, but as demand side commits to taking up supply, you will see production ramp up to meet that demand-supply imbalance. So, one of the earlier fuels we can move forward with current infrastructure and with some minor modifications is biofuel. What we don’t want to do is to promote biofuels that compete with the food chain and there are new solutions in gen 2 gen 3 and gen 4 biofuels, which are very viable alternatives to what we used to know as generation 1 biofuels that come from food crops, we want to avoid that wherever possible. The other fuel that is fast coming into the space is LNG, which is cleanest of all the fossil fuels. LNG opens up the opportunity of bio-LNG in the future. Because once you build the LNG infrastructure bio-LNG can be a nice replacement. So, transition to LNG is an interesting opportunity.

Methanol can also be deployed easily today there are engines that can burn methanol in propulsion systems. But of course, the color of the methanol that makes the difference and the emerging e-methanol is slowly increasing.

As we move in to ammonia scenario, it is an efficient molecule that carries three hydrogen atoms and therefore ammonia has to be green if it has to be used as a decarbonization factor. Ammonia today has a significant demand in the industrial sector. So, the question really is if you are making sufficient green ammonia then wouldn’t you want to displace the brown ammonia that exists in the industrial sector as a priority to decarbonize the entire ecosystem as opposed to putting it through to maritime sector.

Hydrogen is not an easy molecule to handle, and to make green hydrogen is obviously a prerequisite to make green ammonia. We need to think where green hydrogen plays a role in the future.

But at least in next decade or so between biofuels, bio-LNG, and bio methanol we have an opportunity to start the process of decarbonization with the current infrastructure.

Q. Most of the existing vessels are scrubber fitted to adopt to low emissions, from technology standpoint what changes do you see in the future engines and ships that would be coming up to comply with this decarbonization?

One strategy we are beginning to see emerge is the dual fuel readiness strategy. The ships are being built with space and piping space that would be ready to take on the new infrastructure for this alternative fuels. So dual fuel readiness is definitely going to be one of those strategies. The other strategy of once you have a scrubber depending on the scrubber technology there is also an opportunity to use the scrubber technology to both on carbon removal systems and nitrogen removal systems.  This is being actively looked and researched. The challenge of onboard carbon capture is you need to close a loop on the captured carbon. So, it is not good enough for maritime to say that I captured carbon and hand it over to land site and you decide what to do with it. There must be an entire eco system to fix the CO2 and whether it’s through sequestration in all oil fields. There must be a pathway to lock CO2 that is captured. These are different pathways people are thinking about.

While the transition is happening with set targets like 2030, 2050, and 2070, Are there any fuel additives are catalysts which can offer interim solutions for reducing emissions in the meantime?

There are some fuel additives being used in the land transportation industry which offer efficiency increase from 5 to 10%. But that is not going to help the maritime sector as we need additives which can offer 50 to 100 percent reduction in emissions. Therefore, a lot of these solutions like fuel additives will not make the cut. Because their production and carbon foot print will be high. So, we really need to look at alternative fuels’ scenario.

We talked about fuels like hydrogen, biofuels, and LNG, do you think all these fuels will coexist in the market place? The alternative fuels would be costlier compared to conventional fuels, so what would be the business model emerging?

Yes, there will be multiple fuels and in different regions you will have more than one or the other. It’s all about question of accessibility and part of the accessibility is the cost to transport the fuel and move it around. That is where the cost structures of the business model need to be optimized. The production cost today is high but there is still room for technological innovation to reduce those production costs.

We must remember why are we doing this decarbonization, we not doing this to make money or to find a cheaper fuel. We are doing this because climate change is existential threat and we need to address and slow down.  What price we can put on existentialism, that’s where people need to realize, if you want save the whole world and your grandchildren’s life what is the price you are not willing to pay. We are making this change for a better world.

Q. Compared to other industries shipping is under pressure because of IMO regulations on decarbonizations. What ideally government sand industries should be doing to see this transition happen smoothly?  Are we as industry on track to moving towards these goals?

IMO is actually made up of governments and it’s like an UN of the maritime sector. So, it is the government that is imposing these targets. We need to move faster than 2030 and 2050 targets set by the IMO. The first barrier in the way is technology, if we don’t have engines to burn new fuel, then no matter how much you want to transition you just can’t.  

Whilst there is a price gap this is where either through tax incentives for first movers to start building the momentum on demand is within the jurisdiction of various governments. The governments need to get some pressure from the industry and consumers. If they want to move towards green, they need to have mechanisms in place, like carbon tax, and carbon credits. The governments must strive to make transition more sustainable from a business standpoint because 90% of the goods are moved by ships.

The interview can be watched on You Tube at https://youtu.be/03ejH2KN8Rs

Tags: Ammonia, BHP, Biofuels, Decorbonisation, DNV Foundation, Eastern Pacific Shipping, GCMD, Hydrogen, MPA, ONE, Sembcorp Marine
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