MSC backs hydrogen, biofuels as fuels of the future

MSC Gulsun
MSC Gulsun; Image courtesy: MSC

Geneva-based Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC) is exploring the viability of hydrogen and fuels derived from it as a possible fuel source for the future for container shipping.

Speaking on decarbonization at Maritime Transport Efficiency Conference in Geneva, Switzerland on Monday, MSC Group’s Bud Darr said the company was also pioneering the use of biofuels within its existing fleet.

“There’s no one single solution to decarbonise shipping; we need a range of alternative fuels at scale and we need them urgently,” said Darr, who is Executive Vice President, Maritime Policy & Government Affairs at MSC Group.

“The future of shipping and decarbonisation will rely on strong partnerships from both the perspective of technology collaboration and procurement.”

Fossil-sourced LNG remains a transitional option, while carbon capture and storage if perfected for marine use, could be useful, Darr told the conference.

Shipping needs to make a radical shift to zero-carbon energy sources in order to reduce the sector’s total greenhouse gas emissions by at least 50% of 2008 levels by 2050.

This transition requires over $1 trillion in investments to set up the necessary infrastructure and create a completely new fuel production industry.

The endavour is even more complex having in mind that numerous technologies that are said to be those with the greatest potential are still in their early stages of development. Most notably new fuels like ammonia and hydrogen.

That is why MSC, like many other industry players, feel strongly that industry partnerships could help accelerate the development of clean hydrogen for the benefit of the entire container shipping industry.

“Despite some significant challenges to overcome, mainly related to density, volume and safe handling, MSC is in favour of further R&D efforts to produce it in a greenhouse gas neutral way and to develop it at scale, along with other fuels that may derive from it,” the company said.

Aside from hydrogen fuel cells, the company is also evaluating applicable innovative solutions such as complimentary battery power, alternative fuels, and possibly, wind and solar.

However, MSC agrees there must be a massive injection of energy and capital into R&D efforts to bring alternative fuels and alternative propulsion technologies to the marketplace.

The containership owner and operator has backed plans to create a $5 billion environmental research fund through the collection of a carbon levy or R&D collection to help accelerate the transition and introduction of zero-emission vessels by 2030.

The fund is yet to be considered at IMO Marine Environment Protection Committee’s (MEPC) next meeting scheduled for November.

“MSC is therefore engaging with potential vendors to investigate new solutions that would help to minimise and one day, to eventually eradicate CO2 and other GHG emissions from shipping fleets,” the liner major added.

For the time being, MSC has opted for biofuels, bunkering its containerships with up to 30% biofuel blends on a routine basis in Rotterdam, the Netherlands.

MSC started trialing biofuels in 2019 using used cooking oil methyl ester (UCOME) in diesel engines, and the results showed a 15% cut in CO2 emissions when compared to conventional fuels.

In November and December alone the company bunkered over 100k metric tons of biofuel, which MSC estimates resulted in absolute CO2 savings of over 30k MT.

Swiss liner major has continued bunkering biofuels as it believes biodiesel has a lower CO2 emissions profile than regular diesel. Responsibly sourced biofuels could be one of the solutions to meet the IMO 2030 ambitions, MSC said.

The key impediments to widespread use of biofuels are cost and availability.

The company is yet to decide whether and when it might switch to LNG as fuel.

Namely, MSC’s 10 23K+ Gülsün Class containerships were fitted at delivery in 2019-20 with the option to convert in future to LNG as a potential bridging fuel as part of the industry’s transition towards a zero-carbon future.

MSC might be taking the wait and see approach while learning from its counterparts.

Specifically, German container shipping major Hapag-Lloyd has become the first carrier in the sector to go forward with the conversion of an ultra large containership to LNG as fuel.

The project has the potential to result in up to 16 more conversions from the company’s LNG ready fleet.

The project is the core of Hapag-Lloyd’s sustainability strategy, as using LNG has the potential to reduce CO2 emissions by 15 to 30 percent and sulphur dioxide and particulate matter emissions by more than 90 percent.

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