Industry majors launch tech accelerator to clamp down on methane slips

A coalition of shipping leaders, led by industry majors Shell and Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC) launched today with the aim of examining and advocating for technology solutions for the maritime industry to measure and manage methane emissions.

Illustration: CMA CGM Champs Elysees; Credit: CMA CGM Group

The Methane Abatement in Maritime (MAM) Innovation Initiative aims to minimise the environmental impact of liquefied natural gas (LNG) in shipping, whilst aiding the transition to future fuel solutions.

Led by Safetytech Accelerator, established by Lloyd’s Register, MAM is a technology acceleration programme whose activities will initially be supported by seven partners: Maran Gas Maritime, MSC, Carnival Corporation & Plc, Seaspan, Shell, Lloyd’s Register, and Knutsen Group. It will also draw on the expertise of academics, civil society, and other stakeholders, such as the National Physical Laboratory.

In its first year, members plan to identify and pilot new technologies to monitor and reduce ‘methane slip’ from vessels fuelled by LNG. Once these solutions have been validated, the initiative will seek to endorse them to the industry from 2023.

The initiative will also look into the ways of encouraging ship owners and operators to adopt proven abatement technology at scale.

It will be chaired by Panagiotis Mitrou, Lloyd’s Register’s Global Gas Director, and directed by Safetytech Accelerator’s Head of Partnerships, Steve Price.

The need to address methane slip

LNG has long been understood by the shipping industry as a bridging fuel to support its decarbonisation efforts – with campaign groups forecasting that over two-thirds of new ships will be powered by LNG by 2025. Since 2010 the number of vessels fuelled by LNG has grown consistently by 20-40% per annum, data from SEA LNG shows.

Compared to traditional marine fuels, LNG is widely understood to generate less carbon dioxide (CO2), and emit less Nitrogen Oxides (NOx), Sulphur Dioxide (Sox), and Particulate Matter, for the same propulsion power.

However, the environmental benefits of using LNG have been questioned due to the propensity of LNG-vessels to leak unburned methane through the combustion process, as insisted by Transport & Environment NGO.

Methane is a potent greenhouse gas, estimated to have a Global Warming Potential (GWP) of 27-30 over 100 years, while CO2 has a GWP of 1 regardless of time period used.

Defining what constitutes negligible methane emissions, and then ensuring the sector meets that target, is, therefore, a vital imperative for an industry grappling with its climate footprint and increasingly using LNG as a transition fuel,” the coalition said.

To date, there are no globally recognised methods for measuring methane slip – with a lack of available data and tools contributing to the issue.

However, in March 2022, the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT) launched the FUgitive Methane Emissions from Ships (FUMES) project to quantify methane emissions from LNG-fueled ships.

Using in-stack continuous emissions monitoring, drones, and helicopters, the project will examine and quantify methane emissions from ships fueled by LNG under a variety of real-world operating conditions.

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As disclosed, measuring the scale of methane emissions, and understanding if they can be managed to negligible levels, will signal if Liquefied Bio Methane (LBM) and Liquefied synthetic methane (LSM) are viable pathway fuels to help achieve 2050 decarbonisation targets.

“Shipping currently lacks the information and tools they need to accurately measure the amount of methane released by LNG-fuelled ships, and the extent of this impact,” Price said.

“We believe that better information will allow the maritime industry to better understand the extent to which its LNG-fuelled ships are emitting methane.

“Understanding the extent of this methane slip will allow companies’, society and policymakers understand LNG’s real environmental impact. Empowering markets to channel investments to new technologies that can reduce methane slip, or to other transition fuels.”

“Maran Gas Maritime has long been convinced of the advantages of LNG as a clean burning fuel and as an alternative marine fuel. However, in light of the strong warming potential of methane releases to the atmosphere, keeping tight control over methane emissions is critical to ensure that LNG’s overall GHG footprint delivers as much GHG reduction as possible versus conventional marine fuels,” Andreas Spertos, EVP-Technical Director, Maran Gas Maritime Inc. (MGM), said.

“This will not only secure near term GHG emission reductions, but will also allow to fully develop gas based carbon neutral fuels such as biogas and synthetic methane.”

Jarle Oestenstad, Director Newbuilding and innovation, Knutsen, said the company has been working on minimizing methane slip for a long time, adding that methane slip has been an important evaluation factor for the selection of machinery in the last years.

“We hope this initiative from LR will give a positive impact for first getting methods of correctly measuring and in the end give important data for being able to optimize Methane slip abetment technologies such that we can get energy efficient and cost-effective way to reduce methane slip which also is easy to operate for the ship personnel,” he added, noting that Knutsen would be interested in participating with a vessel in potential pilots.

“The need to reduce the negative effects of global climate change becomes more urgent with each passing day. So it is critical that the industry does everything it can – as quickly as possible – to unlock the potential of LNG as a transition fuel. By convening industry members who have already made great strides in abating emissions across their fleets, we aim to share and promote best practices across the supply chain for the benefit of the entire sector,” Panos Mitrou, Global Gas Director, Lloyd’s Register, said.

Several initiatives and technological solutions are being looked into to address the issue of methane slip and cement further the position of LNG as the go-to solution, especially as the number of newbuilding vessels set to run on LNG increases.

These include a methane oxidation catalyst system for LNG-fueled vessels, which recently secured approval from ClassNK. The system reduces methane slip by placing a methane oxidation catalyst in an LNG fuel engine and oxidizing it.

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