It was at a climate conference earlier this week that John Kerry, the US special envoy on climate issues, called on the IMO to guide the industry towards zero emissions by 2050. At the same time, he announced that the United States is committing to work with other countries within the organization to achieve the goal. This means that the country has made a complete volte-face from the attitude of the previous administration in Washington towards shipping and international legislation.
A few days earlier, the World Bank presented three research reports on the possibilities of achieving future zero-carbon shipping. The first report shows that ammonia and hydrogen are the most promising zero-carbon fuels for the shipping of the future - they are more scalable, safer and more cost-competitive than other biofuels or synthetic alternatives.
The production of new zero-carbon fuels would also give many countries that have not been traditional energy exporters the opportunity to become so instead of importers. Among them are several developing countries - Brazil, Malaysia, India and Mauritius are mentioned as well positioned to become future producers of zero-carbon bunker fuels. While Brazil, which has extensive natural gas reserves, can primarily produce blue ammonia (ie based on fossil raw materials in combination with CCS), India and Mauritius (and eventually Malaysia) have high potential to produce green ammonia using renewable energy. Sweden is one of the countries that is considered to have a high potential to produce blue ammonia/hydrogen before we can eventually switch to green production.
Additionally, the production of zero-carbon bunker fuels could support developing countries in achieving their overall decarbonization and infrastructure modernization more flexibly and at lower cost. With the large majority of expected investments required for land-based infrastructure in renewable energy generation and hydrogen production, a particular win-win for developing countries would be to leverage these investments for their own domestic energy sector as well as maritime and non-maritime infrastructure needs. Green ammonia and green hydrogen have a wide range of uses.
One of the three reports focuses entirely on liquefied natural gas (LNG) and its role in the transition to zero-carbon shipping. According to it, LNG is likely to play a limited role importance, both before and after 2030. The conclusion is reached because of it’s low efficiency in terms of reduced greenhouse gas emissions in combination with weak commercial and technical motivations. LNG is expected to be a niche fuel used primarily on existing routes and special vessels or in places with strong domestic interests favoring it.
However, natural gas is expected to play an important and enabling role in the production of zero-carbon fuel. When used as a feedstock for hydrogen production in conjunction with CCS, natural gas has the potential to kick-start the commercial production of blue ammonia and hydrogen.