Japan Looks to be World’s First to Attain Zero Emission

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The World Maritime Organization (IMO) has adopted a two-tier strategy aimed for a drastic reduction of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from international shipping. The initial target obliges ships to cut their average fuel cost by 40% by 2030. The second target year has been set for 2050 when the total GHG emissions are to be reduced by at least 50%. Decarbonization is a major challenge not experienced before by the shipping industry which has supported global logistics for more than 200 years by burning fossil fuels. The images of both fuels and ships may greatly change and huge environmental costs may dramatically transform the shipping business itself. Japan has just come out with its own “zero emission strategy” to attain the IMO goals.

Two Years Ahead of World “We are committed to commercialize zero-emission oceangoing ships by 2030.” That was the message sent out by “Getting to Zero Coalition”, a maritime industry alliance, to the UN Climate Action Summit 2019 held in New York in September 2019. The world has begun taking huge steps toward achieving zero emission. The European Union has bared a long-term vision dubbed “Clean Planet for All”, pledging to build zero emission short-haul vessels and barges by 2030 and make all types of ship carbon-free by 2050. Shipping operators have also announced their own policies. A.P. Moller-Maersk Group was among the first to pronounce a goal to make all its shipping operations carbon-neutral by 2050. By ramping up technical innovation, the group will decarbonize all its supply chains by adopting commercially viable carbon-neutral ships by 2030. In Japan, members of its maritime cluster joined forces and began working on a roadmap for GHG emission reduction in August 2018, four months after the IMO decided on its strategy. A government-industry-academia panel formed for the purpose was joined by specialists from shipping, shipbuilding and maritime equipment companies, a classification society, research laboratories and the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport & Tourism (MLIT). It had spent two years studying world trends on energy saving and decarbonization and discussing agendas for technology development, and in April 2020, Japan launched its zero-emission strategy. The panel set a target to “realize zero-emission ships by 2028,” while many other maritime countries in the world have chosen 2030 as their target year. It is a manifestation of Japan’s intention to achieve zero emission earlier than the rest of the world.

Improving 78% Fuel Efficiency by 2050

When the IMO adopted its GHG strategy in 2018, the Japanese maritime industries were not quite sure as to exactly what they should do and how much improvement they could attain to clear the high hurdle of cutting the total GHG emissions by half by 2050. However, the target set by the panel has given them a detailed roadmap. Even considering the future growth of marine cargo hauls, each ship will need to make sizable improvement in order to slash its total emissions by half. The panel reassessed how much fuel efficiency in average will be necessary, based on a plural number of future scenarios. It figured out that a 78.2% improvement will be needed as compared to 2008. Now Japanese shipping operators have been given a specific goal to reach. The year 2030 will be crucial for the achievement of the IMO’s 50% reduction target. Given that a ship’s average lifespan is 20 years, many ships built in 2030 will still be in service in 2050. At present, a common understanding in the world is that first-generation ultra-low emission ships will come into service in 2030 and become increasingly popular thereafter. Japan has prepared a work schedule to bring about its first zero-emission ship two years earlier than that. In accordance with the schedule, Japanese shipping operators, shipbuilders and marine equipment manufacturers will carry out necessary R&D schemes and technical demonstrations ahead of peers in other countries. The government will step up its efforts to put related rules and systems in place. For Japan, it turned out that not much time is left before the global trend-line for the 2050 target becomes clearer. It is about to step into its crucial eight years.

Synthetic Methane Seen Promising

The scheduled reduction of GHG emissions from international shipping will drastically change the propulsion systems and marine fuels. LNG fuel is now becoming increasingly popular. But its emission reduction ratio is known to be about 30%, much lower than that of the 2050 target. Ammonia, hydrogen, biodiesel and battery are mentioned as “post-LNG” substitute fuels. A shipping official said, “Each has its own pros and cons and we don’t know at this time which will be definitely promising.” Uncertainty persists as to future trends of fuel shift and related technology development. This makes many shipowners hesitant to make their next investment. One of important points about Japan’s zero-emission strategy is that it has presented a range of specific scenarios for fuel shift. After listing up candidate substitute fuels and reduction technologies, it has specified four fuels seen highly effective in reducing emission by almost 90% by 2028. They are hydrogen fuel, ammonia fuel, synthetic methane (methane recycled from carbon dioxide) and carbon dioxide recovered onboard from waste gas. Then the panel has envisioned two scenarios for future energy shift. One of them predicts that the core fuel will shift from LNG to synthetic methane. The latter emits as much CO₂ as LNG, but as CO₂ is used to produce it, it can be regarded as carbon-neutral fuel. This scenario is considered promising. One of reasons is that the same technologies and infrastructure used for LNG fuel (for the transitional period) can be applied to synthetic methane. Since methane is the main component of LNG, the LNG-fueled ships in service can use synthetic methane without any major remodeling. If this scenario works, shipowners are highly likely to clear the 2030 target and respond to the 2050 target by stepping up their investment to promote a shift away from LNG fuel.

Scenario for Ammonia, Hydrogen

The other scenario presumes that apart from the ongoing spread of LNG fuel, hydrogen and ammonia will become popular as ship fuels in the future. At the moment, ammonia has problems about toxicity and flammability while hydrogen is technically difficult to handle. However, marine engineers have already been speeding up their R&D initiatives on both fuels and may overcome those problems. Both fuels emit no CO₂ when burned and can easily assure zero emission. Specialists on the panel have conducted a series of simulations to see how the 2050 target of 50% reduction can be attained on the basis of the two scenarios. Understandably, whether those substitute fuels will be adequately supplied remains to be seen. The panel has drawn attention to the possibility that the advantage of each substitute fuel can change depending on future technology development and energy supply. However, it has specified the substitute fuels and technologies Japan should focus on. Technology development will proceed for a while in the direction recommended by the panel.

Four Concept Ships

One Japanese shipowner questioned, “I can understand that zero emission will be feasible with large containerships, but is that really possible with ships like a Handysize bulker?” Larger ships have more space to house additional equipment. Their prices are high enough to absorb the extra cost needed to ensure zero emission. Operators who run such ships are seen to have a good capacity to invest and can work out a scheme for investment return backed by their long-term service contracts. But what about midsize bulkers whose combined tonnage is biggest in the market? In fact, they have made no progress at all in switching over to LNG fuel, a step that should precede zero emission. This suggests that such smaller ships face a high hurdle to clear. To provide cues for discussion, the panel has designed four zero-emission concept ships dubbed “C-ZERO Japan” based on its two energy shift scenarios. The feasibility of their materialization and technical agendas to be addressed will be considered here. Two of the ships are based on the scenario that LNG and synthetic methane will become core fuels in the future. One of them will be built by mobilizing all existing technologies such as LNG fuel, speed reduction, wind propulsion, air lubrication and hybrid contra-rotating propellers. This ship comes in two models, an 80,000-dwt bulker and a 20,000-TEU containership.

The panel has confirmed that CO₂ emissions can be cut by a maximum of 86% with each of the models. The other concept ship will be based on combination of an onboard system to store CO₂ recovered from exhaust gas, and a methane fuel-powered propulsion system. The panel has prepared a concept design for a 20,000-TEU containership. Based on its scenario that hydrogen and ammonia will become core fuels, the panel has designed concepts for a liquefied hydrogen fuel-powered ship and an ammonia fuel-powered ship. The former also comes in two models, an 80,000-dwt bulker and a 20,000-TEU containership.

Assuming that it will be powered by a dual-fuel reciprocating engine, the panel has sorted out all relevant technical matters such as engine performances, fuel supply, enlarged fuel tanks, heat protection system, hydrogen leakage and fuel supply. As to the latter, a concept has been designed for an 80,000-dwt bulker. To tide over the poor flammability of ammonia, a pilot fuel will be used to help stabilize ignition. Even so, the panel has estimated that the ship can cut CO₂ emissions by 91.9% as compared to a conventional bulker of the same tonnage. Particularly notable is a concept presented by the panel that emissions can be reduced by more than 80% even by simply relying on the existing technical solutions such as sailing at lower speed and using LNG fuel. The concept bulker is easier to image as it will be based on combination of a hybrid contrarotating propeller, hard sail and air lubrication that unique to Japan in addition to an enhanced speed reduction and upsized wide-hull vessel.

The panel has drawn a roadmap for its four concept ships to pave the way for putting them to practical use by 2028. For example, engines and other equipment needed for hydrogen fuel-powered and ammonia fuel-powered ships will be developed by 2024, they will be tested either in mixed fuel burning or on board a coastal ship by 2026 and first such ships retrofitted with them will be commissioned in 2028. Based on this work schedule, Japanese shipping, shipbuilding and marine equipment companies will advance their necessary R&D schemes and technical demonstrations. The big challenge in zero-emission is not just technology, but the funding to reach initiating it. It does require a huge amount of money. As bulky R&D investment will have to be made, cross-industry partnerships and public-private projects will be imperative. Japan’s roadmap has also proposed forming international frameworks to secure necessary funds. One of the ideas floated by the panel calls for shipowners to contribute money in accordance with their fuel consumption. The money will be pooled in a fund which will invest in international R&D projects. The panel has reckoned that contributions of about $2.00 per ton of fuel consumption can create a pool equivalent to $500 million per year. Japan is expected to propose such fuel billing system to the IMO in the future.

Source: Kaiji Press

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