CSSC kicks off major engine development project targeting green fuels

China State Shipbuilding Corporation (CSSC) has launched a major project targeting the acceleration of the development of green marine engines capable of running on methanol, ammonia, and hydrogen.

The project was kick-started with the first meeting on November 28 in Shanghai.

With this project, CSSC aims to strengthen technological research, speed up the establishment of new fuel engine laboratories, build an industry talent team and drive continuous improvement of the industrial supply chain. The goal is also to boost China’s ability to innovate independently especially ahead of the expected rise in demand for green fuels in the shipping industry.

According to the General Manager of CSSC Yang Jincheng, the project would leverage platforms such as the Shanghai Shipbuilding Manufacturing Innovation Center and other facilities in order to develop a strategic implementation plan.

Marine engine developers are racing against the clock to develop and demonstrate the viability of the first engines running on ammonia and hydrogen spurred by the mounting pressure on the shipping industry to end its reliance on fossil fuels.

German engine manufacturer MAN Energy Solutions plans to release its first commercial two-stroke ammonia-fueled engine for shipping by 2024; followed in 2025 by technology to retrofit engines in existing fleets to burn the new fuel.

The process is not easy having in mind that ammonia, for example, is a toxic and corrosive chemical. Therefore, the research and development of the fuel system from tank to engine would have to pay considerable attention to ensure safety and eliminate leaks.

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Given the current time scale from engine developers, small tankers powered by ammonia are not expected to enter the market before 2026 as efforts to develop an ammonia-burning engine remain underway. As for the medium and large vessels, the first deliveries are expected in 2029 and 2030.

When it comes to hydrogen as a marine fuel, this solution is lagging behind its counterparts considerably. Hydrogen needs to be compressed (700 bar) or liquified (-253 °C), which requires substantial ingenuity from the engineering side so as to enable a vessel to store the chemical element safely at such low temperatures while keeping the structural integrity of the tanks and the entire vessel intact.

The key hurdles hindering a greater uptake are hydrogen’s low energy density and the corresponding space demands, heralding a limited hydrogen uptake in deep-sea ship segments where 2-stroke engines are a natural choice for propulsion, DNV said in its Maritime Forecast to 2050 report.

Therefore, hydrogen is expected to be a more viable option for the short-sea segment, as major engine manufacturers, such as MAN Energy Solutions and Wärtsilä, are experimenting with blend-in technologies mixing hydrogen with other fuels to improve the performance of 4-stroke engines.

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