Hydrogen might not be the marine fuel of the future

Hydrogen has recently emerged as a hot candidate for the marine fuel of the future, but now its use is predicted to be limited. DNV GL's latest maritime forecast for 2050 shows that hydrogen will have a limited significance as its low energy density makes it expensive and difficult to handle and store on board.

The purpose of DNV GL's fourth edition of Maritime Forecast to 2050 is to help shipowners choose the right fuel and technology on the complex path to fossil-free shipping. Of course, it is not easy. The market is uncertain and unpredictable, as is technology and new laws and regulations that must be taken into account. And if you choose wrong today, tomorrow can be expensive.

"The grand challenge of our time is finding a pathway towards decarbonization. Reducing GHG emissions is rapidly becoming the defining decision-making factor for the future of the shipping industry. The pressure to act decisively is mounting. Perfect is the enemy of good, and so we mustn’t wait for an ideal solution to arrive and risk making no progress at all", says Knut Ørbeck-Nilssen, CEO of DNV GL Maritime on the company's website.

The road to fossil-free shipping is complex. No less than 30 different scenarios based on fleet composition, energy use and carbon dioxide emissions are addressed in the report and 16 different fuel types and 10 fuel technology systems are modeled.

These are set against three different goals - completely fossil-free by 2040, the IMO's current halving ambition between 2008 and 2050 and no ambitions at all.

So which fuel should you invest in? The answer is that there is no clear winner. LNG is predicted to account for large parts of the energy supply in the IMO scenario, but when the rules are tightened by 2030 or 2040, bio-MGO, e-MGO, bio-LNG and e-LNG will become more important when vessels with LNG engines can switch to these. By 2050, ammonia and biomethanol have taken over the market and DNV GL considers these fossil-free fuels to be the most promising in the long term.

In the scenario completely fossil-free as early as 2040, LNG will be less important and the shift will instead go directly to fossil-free methanol or ammonia, while existing vessels will run on bio-MGO or e-MGO.

What about hydrogen? Surprisingly, the modeling showed that hydrogen will only have a limited significance as ship fuel. Behind this is the estimated fuel price and excessive investment costs for engines and fuel systems. Hydrogen is still expected to be an important building block in the future production of fossil-free fuels such as ammonia and methanol. As a fuel, it can find a niche in smaller ferries and cruise ships, especially in regions where investments are made in local production and distribution.