SodaFlexx CEO: The best fuel is unburnt fuel

SodaFlexx CEO
Barry Bednar, SodaFlexx CEO; Image by Sodaflexx

The best solution for the shipping sector to cut CO2 emissions in the short term is to resort to fuel consumption efficiency measures in anticipation of greater maturity of green fuels’ production and the development of the relevant infrastructure, as explained by Barry Bednar, CEO of SodaFlexx.

The London-based equipment innovator has developed a concept to treat exhaust gas emissions from ships with sodium bicarbonate powder, also known as baking soda. The company is also trialing a Carbon Capture System that it believes will change the way CO2 is captured and treated aboard ocean-going vessels. 

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As explained by Bednar, a considerable portion of shipping companies are reluctant to invest in new technologies and fuels amid uncertainties regarding their scalability and availability. This has been a major hurdle in accelerating the sector’s transition to greener operations and the ultimate switch to net zero.

Looking at the current market situation, the application of batteries and fuel cells has been on the rise in the short-sea sector, however, there is still a long way to go for the technology to become mainstream. On the other hand, when it comes to ocean-going ships there are various options to be tapped such as LNG, biofuels, and methanol.

Biofuels can be used on vessels without changing engine specifications, which makes them the most ‘technologically ready’ of existing alternative zero-emission fuel options. They are being used in the form of drop-in fuels, such as HVO (hydrotreated vegetable oil) or blend-in fuels such asFAME (fatty acid methyl ester) or as alternative fuels in specialty engines such as biomethanol. The major disadvantage is the insufficient availability of these fuels as well as strong competition from other sectors such as aviation. Sustainable production is another factor that requires attention.

LNG and methanol are believed to be good immediate solutions for emission reduction, but to be truly sustainable fuels from a well-to-wake perspective they need to be produced using renewable electricity. Therefore, they need to undergo a transition of their own.

For green ammonia and hydrogen, there is a long way to go as production scalability remains a major issue. Finally, nuclear power seems to be a promising idea with a lot of potential, but it is most likely the least popular one.

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The best fuel is unburnt fuel, and in my mind, marginal gains of many small fuel savings measures, combined with a programme of CO2 neutralisation with existing technologies, such as a dry powder injection system, should help bridge the gap until the new fuel regime is established,” Bednar said.

“Abatement technologies are accepted to have a place in the transition, and indeed they are absolutely necessary. On a well-to-wake basis, burning HFO with an Exhaust Gas Cleaning System is still a way to reduce CO2 emissions. Carbon Capture Systems are another way to mitigate, but ship-board systems are not mature enough to invest in, and the shore-based logistics are not even off the ground.” 

Various companies are looking into the potential of onboard carbon capture technology. Nevertheless, there are numerous barriers for ships using OCC including inadequate port reception infrastructure, low efficiency of the technology as well as its size, and high energy consumption. The regulatory framework is not in place either as type approvals, safety requirements for ships using OCSS as well as EEDI, EEXI, and CII calculations for ships using OCCS are yet to be defined.

With all of this in mind, Bednar suggests that once the right incentives are in place the industry might be on the brink of developing new disruptive technologies that the sector hasn’t heard of. In the meantime, fuel savings and abatement technologies should be the first step in the right direction.