Why ammonia and methanol are clear winners

Carl Martin Faannessen, CEO of Manila-based crewing specialist Noatun Maritime, has a firm idea which two fuels have won the race for the next generation of vessels.

On April 20 this year, the future of marine fuels changed and very few noticed.

During Singapore Maritime Week I had the pleasure of sharing a table with Guy Platten from the International Chamber of Shipping. During our conversation it came up that multiple owners all have the same concern: Zero carbon can be done, but they need assurance that their fuel of choice will be available as well as certifiably zero-carbon. They all feel this assurance is lacking. As a result owners make decisions that are either transitory (LNG) or they buy dual-fuel knowing that this hedge will keep them in business for the next decade or two.

These decisions are not “bending the curve”, to borrow a phrase from Professor Lynn Loo at the Global Center for Maritime Decarbonization in Singapore. At best they perpetuate the status quo, in a world that is rapidly driving towards zero carbon. Again we in the maritime industry come across as polluting laggards, in spite of our efforts not to.

But there is increasing clarity on which fuels will dominate in the future, and recently a certified zero-carbon source has emerged.

There are many fuel contenders, but few (if any) bunker-stations will be willing to invest in and run the infrastructure needed to deliver all of these. Commercial gravity will take over, and we will see consolidation to two zero-carbon fuels: Ammonia and methanol. Not overnight, but it is where we will end up.

Methanol (CH3OH) gets a lot of attention, thanks to Maersk deploying its muscle behind it as their initial choice of zero-carbon fuel. It is a workable option, as long as you have the biogenic carbon on hand and you can capture the methane it releases. Both of these are considerable challenges. Let us also not underestimate the safety-aspect: Ingestion of 10 ml of pure methanol can destroy your optic nerve; from 30 ml and up you are in lethal territory. The most common antidote is rapid administration of pure ethanol, so zero-alcohol policies onboard will be rewritten to allow ‘drunk as a skunk’ following methanol ingestion.

Ammonia (NH3) starts with the safe handling of the molecule. It has been handled safely as cargo on ships for decades. There is obviously a need to industrialise the processes and protocols needed to manage it safely as a fuel, both for the crew and the environment. Singapore is on it, together with a consortium of companies, which means we know it will get done and done well. Unlike methanol, there is no carbon in ammonia. Zero. If it is manufactured using only renewable energy, it becomes a zero-carbon fuel.

Enter a gang of adventurous entrepreneurs, who on April 20 secured the world’s first TÜV Rheinland certificate for green ammonia and green hydrogen. Scatec of Norway and ACME of India secured this milestone. Their facility in Oman will scale to produce up to 1.2m tons of green ammonia annually. Last I checked, there are plenty of vessels sailing past Oman and they will soon have a zero-carbon option.

Scatec has announced a similar project in Egypt, in a Suez-favourable location. It is reasonable to expect that a similar green certification will be sought for this project also. Soon the vessels passing through Suez will have a zero-carbon option. Maersk is also on record with ambitious plans for both green methanol and green ammonia in this area.

Granted that these are but the first few locations, but Singapore is on record with ambitious and thorough plans for this. Rotterdam, too. In addition, there are whispers of ambitious plans centered on Gibraltar and South Africa, not to mention Australia and Chile. Now look at this old map of coaling-stations and feel the warm breath of history repeating:

With the energy industry beginning to deliver zero-carbon fuels, the onus of action is again moving to the owners. It is good to see that some are rising to the challenge: According to Clarksons, 12% of the orders placed during Q1 this year are set to run on ammonia.

All of the above should provide an increase in confidence for shipowners pursuing a zero-carbon future.

The fuel will be available, especially ammonia.


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  1. This is all great news but where are the studies addressing the potential impact on ship manoeuvring capabilities with these fuels?

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