LNG as a future fuel has been on the receiving end of an enormous amount of flak of late. Niels den Nijs, CEO of Titan LNG, argues critics are misplaced in their attacks.
World trade must keep moving. The transition to a decarbonised future must move forward. To achieve this effectively, there is a balance that needs to be struck between the academic, hypothetical approach, and the practical, pragmatic one. Hypothetically, we could wait for a potentially perfect answer. Pragmatically, we cannot, and urgent action is needed to start making progress today.
No one is saying that conventional LNG is the end game when it comes to solving the shipping’s decarbonisation conundrum. Quite the opposite – it is simply the starting point to unravel the riddle of achieving a zero emissions future for shipping.
The LNG critics, often guided by academics, leaning on outdated theoretical data, seem to dismiss LNG in isolation without including its current benefits, as well as its future through the introduction of bio-and hydrogen-derived LNG. This pathway is a practical and pragmatic plan to get to zero global, as well as zero local, emissions.
LNG critics are often guided by academics leaning on outdated theoretical data
Those suggesting that conventional LNG is a ‘waste of time’, or a ‘dead end’ clearly do not understand the potential of these greener ‘cousins’ of conventional LNG. They also overlook the health benefits that derive from the reduced emissions of NOx, SOx and PM when the fuel is burned, compared to the old fuels like fuel oil and diesel. Unlike other potential non-conventional fuels on the horizon, bio-LNG (both ISCC-certified and physical bio-LNG) has already passed through the pilot phases and is scaling up in both supply and demand. It is fully compatible with the existing LNG infrastructure and engine technologies, meaning it can be transported, stored, and bunkered today.
This is exactly what CMA CGM has recognised and implemented. We fully support Rodolphe Saadé’s claim saying that we need to act now. We applaud CMA CGM for offering ISCC-certified bio-LNG to its customers in its intra-European trades as an intermediary step between conventional LNG and physical bio-LNG. Bio-LNG reduces direct GHG emissions up to 90% compared to conventional LNG. Fine particle emissions are zero and SOx and NOx are reduced by over 70%.
Bio-LNG is a biofuel made by processing organic waste flows that are available in abundance and fit into the circular economy that we are all striving for. Biogas develops when anaerobic digestion occurs; biological matter breaks down and gas is emitted in the process. This puts it at an advantage in comparison with other non-conventional fuels which are currently available, such as blue hydrogen, which is produced from fossil fuels.
More and more shipowners already understand that the current LNG infrastructure and engine technology will be able to accommodate hydrogen-derived LNG from renewable sources (wind and solar energy), when commercially available. Like bio-LNG, it can be ‘dropped-in’, and any ratio combination of bio-LNG, hydrogen-derived LNG, and conventional LNG can be used to fuel the merchant fleet. This ensures that any ratio combination is possible to reduce GHG emissions, enabling a flexible approach to complying with the evolving rules and regulations.
All of the processes required in the production of Hydrogen-derived LNG are mature; production can happen at any location where there is direct air capture of CO2 or green CO2 from biomass, access to water and renewable energy available. The production capacity of zero emission hydrogen-derived LNG correlates to the amount of available renewable electricity. Therefore, greater adoption of renewable energy is necessary before zero emission hydrogen-derived LNG, as well as green hydrogen, or green ammonia can be a produced at scale.
We are not suggesting that we should not explore the potential of fuels such as green hydrogen and green ammonia. We should and we will. But this will take many decades. And even then, there are no guarantees that they will be fit for purpose. These fuels have major challenges to overcome before they can be safely used. There are very practical technical problems relating to toxicity, permeability and flammability which must be solved to enable the onboard super-cryogenic storage of green hydrogen at 20 degrees Celsius above absolute zero. At Titan LNG we have experience with chartering multi gas carriers that are also able to transport ammonia. We recognise the tremendous challenges in the handling of this fuel, which requires the crew to work in body suits and have oxygen masks when going on deck. There is also unburned gaseous slip in the engines such as ammonia or methane slip to consider. This must continue to be addressed, although great progress has already been made over time.
Zero-carbon fuel solutions for deep sea shipping are likely to be a decade or more away from any scale of supply; requiring huge investments in renewables, infrastructure, safety, and operational testing and analysis. In addition, shipping faces competition for zero-carbon fuels from other parts of the economy. Land and air transport, plus industrial sites that are embedded in carbon pricing systems and will likely ‘out price’ the shipping sector for these fuels.
While we should explore a range of alternative fuels, what we must not do is rule out the LNG pathway. It represents a clear evolution from LNG, to bio-LNG, to hydrogen-derived LNG to get us to zero emissions while providing extra health benefits for the world today. There is no risk to ‘locking into LNG’. In fact, pursuing the LNG pathway gives shipowners a clear, low risk route to a zero emissions future that started 10 years ago and is now available globally at scale. The answer to shipping’s decarbonisation conundrum starts now.