Don’t bet everything on one horse

Ammonia? It has potential. Speed controls? Hardly. Scrubbers? Doubtful.
As a neutral collaboration platform, Lighthouse has been able to early identify and analyze the candidates for the puzzle pieces that will take us to a greener and more sustainable shipping.
We can’t bet everything on one horse, Åsa Burman, director at Lighthouse says.


We have to be on our toes. Research, innovation and development are often a slow process that takes several years, but the trends hyping potential green saviors often swing faster than it takes the earth to circle around the sun.

“Two years ago, ammonia was a chemical in everyone's eyes. Then it appeared as the marine fuel of the future and six months ago everyone was talking about it. Now it is instead hydrogen that gets most of the attention, Åsa Burman, operations manager at Lighthouse, says.

But that does not necessarily mean that ammonia is not a fuel of future. It still has the same potential as stated in the pre-study that Lighthouse published within the framework of the Swedish Transport Administration's industry program Sustainable Shipping this spring.

“It is very important not to bet everything on one horse. There is no silver bullet. Ammonia and hydrogen both have their advantages, above all they are carbon free. On the other hand, they are both produced today with fossil fuels and very large investments are required before they seriously can make shipping greener. We’re only at the beginning of the process but it can’t take 10-20 years as it did with the development of LNG. After the pre-study, a major project has been started where hydrogen, ammonia and also battery operation are included”, Åsa Burman says.

The transition period to a total fossil-free shipping industry is long and fossil fuels will still be with us for many years. During that time, we have to be careful to not create solutions that create new problems.

“We can´t get too obsessed on carbon dioxide and let other emissions to increase. Scrubbers are a typical solution are a typical example of this. That they are even allowed with an open loop is remarkable. Both an ICES viewpoint and a pre-study that we recently published clearly shows this.”

Mandatory speed controls, proposed by various parties within the IMO last year, are another example of a dubious solution that was quickly analyzed in a Lighthouse pre-study.

“Within our network, we have been good at identifying issues that are on the current agenda or will soon be. The possible inclusion of shipping in the EU emissions trading system is another example of one of those issues. A pre-study on the subject was completed this spring and it forms a good basis for all consultation bodies when such a system is to be designed. The Swedish Transport Administration has also invested SEK 4.3 million in taking the research further in a major project.”

The secret behind Lighthouse's ability to take action is its network and members. Among those are the Swedish Maritime Administration, the Swedish Transport Administration, several shipping companies and of course those who carry out the research - the University of Gothenburg, Chalmers, Linnaeus University and research institutes such as IVL, SSPA and VTI. If sustainable shipping is to be achieved, long-term triple helix cooperation between industry, academia and authorities is needed. And in the middle of this, Lighthouse is the hub and unifying force. When Lighthouse now, after 15 years, enters its third phase, it does so as a platform for knowledge exchange and collaboration on maritime research and innovation.

“We want to broaden our perations, both by bringing in more participants and by a broader commitment from all parts of the shipping sector. We think, for example, that ports have an important part to play in making shipping competitive and sustainable. In the industry program Sustainable Shipping, which we run for 10 years, we have started working with port issues. The Swedish Transport Administration's long-term perspective is important because that means that different operators come together in smaller studies, which often leads to further collaborations.”

Lighthouse has also taken the initiative to bring together the entire Swedish shipping sector in the work on a national agenda for maritime research and innovation – a work that will be completed in the autumn.

“The shipping industry is complex. The agenda describes it from a number of different aspects, identifies challenges and recommends how these should be addressed. The target group is mainly politicians and decision-makers, and the aim of the project is to provide them with the understanding and tools for creating conditions for the implementation of the agenda.”

A broader operation also means a greater international involment. Since last year, Lighthouse has been an active member of Waterborne, the EU's official technology platform for shipping and marine technology.

”We also have high hopes that a partnership program, Zero emission waterborne transport, will be introduced within the framework of Horizon Europe. The idea is to provide and demonstrate zeroemission solutions for all main ship types and services before 2030, which will enable zero-emission waterborne transport before 2050. There are project proposals for both wind and ammonia, hydrogen and batteries. It is spot on”, Åsa Burman says.

This article has previously been published in Sjöfartstidningen's publication Maritime Greentech - Fairway forward to a sustainable future