Japan pushes ahead with ammonia as a shipping fuel of the future

Japan is planning to introduce ammonia as fuel into the shipping industry and make it commercially available in the late 2020s as part of its efforts to go carbon-neutral by 2050.

Illustration; Image by NYK

The solution was examined at today’s meeting of the fuel ammonia council, which was established back in October. The council is made up of representatives from the public and private sectors to solve technical and other supply-chain hurdles to the introduction and expansion of using ammonia as a fuel.

The council also wants to introduce ammonia into the fuel mix for thermal power generation.

“Ammonia is expected to be introduced as fuels on a commercial basis for thermal power generation and shipping in the late 2020s, and it is expected to be used for a significant amount by around 2030,” Ryo Minami, director-general of oil, gas and mineral resources at the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, told the council meeting.

Ammonia joins renewable energy sources like solar, wind, geothermal, hydro, and biomass, as it doesn’t emit CO2 even when burned.

Being already mainly used for fertilizer applications, it has an international trading infrastructure in place, however, there still a need for some technical issues to be resolved, incuding safe pressurization, liquefaction and combustion before it can become widely used as a fuel.

Ammonia can be stored in higher temperatures in a liquid form under atmospheric pressure.

However, it is less energy-dense than oil, meaning ships will consume up to five times as much fuel by volume. Ammonia production would have to rise by 440 million tonnes – more than treble current production – requiring 750 gigawatts of renewable energy, according to the International Chamber of Shipping..

What is more, since it is less flamable it needs a pilot fuel for combustion.

Green ammonia has been identified as one of the most promising low-emission fuels, with the IEA predicting that its use for shipping will reach 130m tonnes by 2070, twice as much as was used worldwide for fertiliser production in 2019.

The council agreed to carry out a feasibility study on procurement of ammonia with the aim of building a supply chain for the solution, as well as carry out demonstration projects to promote the use of ammonia as fuel, with consideration for co-firing in thermal power generation and use in industrial furnaces, ships, etc.

The first feasibility study is expected to see the country’s coal-fired thermal power plants start burning 20% of ammonia.

The shipping industry majors are moving forward with their research and development efforts.

In August, Japanese shipping company NYK Line, shipbuilder Japan Marine United Corporation (JMU), and ClassNK signed a joint R&D agreement for the commercialization of an ammonia-fuelled ammonia gas carrier (AFAGC) that would use ammonia as the main fuel, in addition to an ammonia floating storage and regasification barge (A-FSRB).

Large-scale marine transportation of ammonia is currently carried out by multipurpose liquefied petroleum gas vessels.

“It is expected that the use of ammonia, which is the cargo, as a marine fuel will contribute to the early realization of zero emissions for oceangoing vessels,” NYK said.

Apart from AFAGC, the companies will be engaged in the R&D of a barge that is equipped with a floating storage and regasification facility exclusively for ammonia for the first time in the world.

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