Study shows road to net zero in Pilbara-to-Asia export trade route through LNG

A joint study by Pilbara Clean Fuels (PCF), Oceania Marine Energy and RINA has revealed that Well-to-Wake emissions in the Pilbara-to-Asia iron ore export trade route can be reduced by over 90% by 2050 through the use of liquefied methane (LNG).

Courtesy of Pilbara Ports Authority

According to RINA, the study presents a “flexible and commercially attractive” IMO-compliant marine fuel strategy to shipowners, operators and charterers amidst competing alternative fuel, and proposes a ‘Green Corridor’ marine fuels solution for the Western Australia-to-China bulk minerals export trade route.

To note, PCF is currently pursuing the development of an electrified LNG plant in Port Hedland, Western Australia, aimed at producing low-carbon LNG marine bunker fuel. The plant is said to have the potential to initially produce LNG with emissions of less than 200 kilograms (kg) of GHG per tonne, which can be further reduced to around 50 kg/t LNG, and potentially to zero through technology improvements.

Oceania is developing a marine fuel bunkering business using purpose-designed LNG refuelling vessels to be chartered from Kanfer Shipping, Norway. RINA claimed that LNG bunkering in the Pilbara region offers a “substantial voyage optimization by eliminating the need to deviate to other major bunkering hubs in the region, thus significantly reducing emissions.”

As for RINA, the classification society has developed a concept for an LNG-fueled 209,000 DWT Newcastlemax dry bulk carrier design incorporating pre-combustion carbon removal and hydrogen production to meet IMO 2050 Carbon Intensity Index (CII) requirements over the ship’s operating life.

RINA revealed that the concept features a “novel propulsion arrangement which achieves a fuel saving of 12% when running on LNG at current market speeds and offers the charterer greater fuel flexibility and enhanced economic benefits by reducing LNG consumption.”

The bunker vessel design incorporates a hybrid energy system, including an 8 MWh battery, RINA said, noting that this, alongside the onboard CGR-designed process plant for vapour recovery and reliquefaction, “significantly reduces emissions and enhances operational efficiency.”

RINA also pointed out that CO2 generated from onboard pre-combustion hydrogen production can economically be integrated into the large volume CCS hubs currently being developed in the Pilbara region by various third-party proponents.

Commenting on the study, the classification society stated: “The study concludes that by implementing this holistic combined systems approach, Well-to-Wake emissions for the Pilbara to Asia export shipping industry can be reduced by more than 90% by 2050. The reduction of GHG emissions is achieved by progressively decreasing the LNG fuel share to the engines while proportionately increasing hydrogen usage.”

“This allows for staged upgrades over the vessel’s lifetime to comply with the IMO requirements for continuously reducing GHG emissions. The ship-owner to decide which path to follow to stay ahead of compliance and competition. All necessary technologies for achieving Net Zero Emissions with LNG as a marine fuel already exist and are in use, marking the first time they have been proposed in combination, demonstrating a positive path to Net Zero Emissions for international shipping.”

To remind, PCF, Oceania and RINA signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) to collaborate on studies to define the commercial and emissions reduction benefits their combined concepts could deliver to shipowners and charterers for the Pilbara-to-Asia dry-bulk minerals export trade route back in November 2023.

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In related news, in March 2024, a task force of fifteen industry representatives from across the value chain convened under the Getting to Zero Coalition to explore the implementation of a green shipping corridor powered by zero or near-zero carbon ammonia. This follows the identification of iron ore shipping routes between Western Australia and East Asia as high-potential candidates for establishing the corridor.

The task force believes that developing the corridor on this route could help accelerate the global decarbonization of shipping, reduce emissions regionally and generate benefits for Australia that support its national strategic priorities.

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