Sand Topic

EU-backed project to convert bulk carrier to sail on climate-neutral fuels

A new e-fuels project has kicked off aiming to develop and convert a bulk carrier to run on climate-neutral fuels.

Sand Topic; Image credit: AureliaDesign

Led by Icelandic engineering company Verkís, the European GAMMA project, initiated in January 2024, involves retrofitting a TOPIC Fleet bulk carrier with innovative technologies to demonstrate the feasibility of using e-fuels as an alternative to traditional auxiliary generators. The project is backed by €17 million from the Horizon Europe framework program and aims to address the reliance of ocean transport on fossil fuels.

Namely, to meet the IMO’s decarbonization targets for 2050, new fuels and green technologies must become commercially viable by 2030, and the only way of validating new solutions is through projects like this.

“We will retrofit a bulk carrier with highly innovative technologies and during a demonstration campaign we will prove that it is possible to replace auxiliary generators with a new fuel system that runs on e-fuels. After proof of concept in GAMMA the next step would be to replace the main engines of a ship for a full energy transition. All in all, the project is very visionary, and could be a green game changer for shipping in the future,” says Kjartan Due Nielsen, Innovation Manager at Verkís.

The bulk carrier in question has a deadweight of 60,000 tonnes and runs on fossil fuels. Under the project, it will be fitted with a system that will involve bunkering ammonia and green methanol onto the ship, followed by conversion into hydrogen using cracker and reformer technologies. The purified hydrogen will then be used to generate electricity through a fuel cell, replacing the reliance on auxiliary generators powered by fossil fuels.

Fraunhofer Institute provides the conversion technology, Amnis Pura the purifying and the fuel cell is
provided by Ballard Power Systems Europe.

To evaluate the environmental performance of the technologies in the project, Politecnico di Milano will
perform a well-to-wake analysis and calculate the CO2 emissions.

The project also includes the installation of PV panels from Solbian on the bulk carrier’s hatch covers, providing renewable energy to support the conversion process. The integration of new green technologies is being carried out by Aurelia, with a focus on maintaining operational capabilities while prioritizing safety.

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“We have several decades of experience from innovation within green fuels, and therefore look forward to contributing to GAMMA with our research to convert e-fuels to hydrogen and look forward to bringing the new green technologies in the project forward. Perhaps the results from GAMMA can also be applied in other parts of the transport sector, such as ground and air transport,” says Dr Gunther Kolb, Head of Division Energy, Fraunhofer Institute for Microengineering and Microsystems.

“ANT has always been very keen to invest in green technologies. We are pleased to have found like-minded partners to bring new technologies and innovative thinking onboard. The GAMMA project will provide the most advanced vessel’s performances and environmental quality without compromising on operation effectiveness and flexibility of our ships,” says Alex Albertini, ANT Topic Srl.

The GAMMA project, scheduled to run for five years, commenced in January 2024 and has received €13 million in support from the European Commission.

There are 16 partners in the project, including Verkís, Aurelia, Fraunhofer Institute, Ballard Power Systems Europe, Solbian, ANT Topic, technical and operational managers of the TOPIC Fleet, Sea Green Engineering, Energy Cluster Denmark, Sintef, Amethyste, Elkon Elektrik, Politecnico di Milano, ARM Engineering, RINA, Amnis Pura and Dotcom.