Part of my job as an editor of a daily shipping news title is to generate debate. So when an article popped into my inbox the other day entitled ‘Why LNG as the ship fuel of the future is a massive red herring’ I knew our site was in for a busy day.
Written by Dr Tristan Smith from the Energy Institute at University College London (UCL), the article posited that while LNG helps reduce air pollution, it’s potentially worse than heavy fuel oil (HFO) in the context of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. This is because methane is a potent greenhouse gas, and only a very small amount needs to escape to cancel out the combustion CO2 benefits.
“LNG is a fossil fuel that just like oil produces about three tonnes of CO2 for every tonne of fuel consumed. This makes it an ‘impasse’ in a world committed to decarbonise,” Smith wrote in his widely read contribution to Splash.
Focusing on LNG as shipping’s fuel of the future starves attention and investment from what Smith argued are genuine sustainable solutions that the sector desperately needs such as hydrogen, ammonia, bioenergy and electrification.
As expected Smith’s article detonated on social media.
Dr Roar Adland, shipping chair professor at the Norwegian School of Economics, concurred with his UCL counterpart claiming LNG as a ship fuel was a “waste of money”. Solar, hydrogen or batteries were better options, Adland suggested.
Andre Marcano, chartering manager at Hamburg Bulk Carriers, chipped in, saying that hydrogen fuel cells will power ships far sooner than many believe.
Much of the debate on LinkedIn then centred on potential limited access to rare earth commodities needed to harness battery technology.
Over at Splash the comments were also coming in thick and fast – one reader comparing much of the green tech debate to the Emperor’s New Clothes, while there was strong backing for greater investment in and adoption of wind technology.
Tobias Koenig, an occasional columnist for this publication, joined the debate on LinkedIn, describing LNG as an “interim fuel” for shipping.
If it is an interim, there are some companies out there – the likes of CMA CGM and Total spring readily to mind – who are investing huge, huge sums on something that is unlikely to meet climate demands set down in the UN’s Paris Agreement.
It’s interesting to note that of the nearly 5,000 people who have viewed the article I posted on LinkedIn just three days ago, it has been read most by employees of a bunkering company, a certain French liner and two rather large engine manufacturers who happen to be touting LNG propulsion a lot these days.
What the debate has shown me this week is that shipping has yet to find its silver bullet when it comes to the environment.