Fortescue aims to launch world's first ammonia-powered ship in 2022
Australian mining billionaire Andrew Forrest has announced he's challenged his team to get the world's first ammonia-powered ship into service by 2022, following their rapid success with hydrogen mining trucks and ammonia-powered locomotives.
In doing so, Forrest is hoping to beat a number of other ammonia shipping projects to the punch. Finland's Wartsila, for example – which famously makes some of the biggest combustion engines in the world – is working with a Norwegian company to retrofit a ship with a combustion engine that'll run on 70 percent ammonia. That's slated to be finished in 2023, after which the company plans to ramp up the ammonia percentage.
Greece's Avin International has commissioned an "ammonia-ready" 900-ft (274-m) tanker, although it'll initially launch running on fossil fuels, as presumably will a series of "ammonia-ready" car carriers that China Merchants Heavy Industries (Jiangsu) is delivering to Renaissance Shipping in 2024.
On the electric rather than combustion side, Norway's Eidesvik is working with a Fraunhofer team on the Viking Energy, a supply vessel that'll use ammonia to fuel an electric drive system through a fission reactor, a fuel cell and a catalytic converter. This too is expected to launch in 2023.
So the race is open, and Forrest is in with a shot. His clean-tech business, Fortescue Future Industries (FFI, a subsidiary of his mining company, Fortescue Metals Group, FMG) is working on a dizzying array of projects related to green hydrogen – both as part of FMG's efforts to decarbonize its own mining operations, and to get as many fingers as possible into the emerging hydrogen pie.
In August, Forrest announced it had taken the FFI team about four months to convert one of FMG's huge mining haul trucks to run on a hydrogen fuel cell – a pilot that the company will begin rolling out across its fleet after 2025. Earlier in the year, the team successfully used blended ammonia as a combustion fuel in a locomotive engine, another project it's pursuing hard.
FFI recently announced a partnership with Universal Hydrogen to supply clean fuel to aviation projects until 2035, and it's set to begin construction on a manufacturing facility for electrolyzers that will more than double the entire current global manufacturing capacity. It's working on green hydrogen production facilities in Jordan, India, Brazil, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Afghanistan and Australia, among others, and has signed a deal to be Britain's largest green hydrogen supplier.
So FFI's new goal of rolling out the world's first ammonia-powered ship definitely falls into a wider pattern. The ship in question is the 246-ft (75-m) MMA Leveque, a Singapore-registered support vessel, largely used up to this point to ferry chemicals and drilling fluids out to offshore rigs around Australia and New Zealand.
FFI plans to "convert the 75 meter vessel ... in collaboration with MMA Offshore Limited, over the next 12 months so it can run almost totally on green ammonia." It currently runs four Cummins diesel-electric engines totaling 6,920 horsepower.
FFI did not immediately respond to our requests for further information on the powertrain, or the ship's projected range and fuel load, but we would assume this will be a modified combustion engine similar to the team's work converting diesel locomotives.
Thus, it may require a separate, potentially polluting pilot fuel to bring the temperature up to the point where ammonia can be burned and it'll need to be carefully managed to ensure it doesn't produce too much in the way of harmful nitrogen oxides. It's also not going to be a hugely efficient use of green energy; as we discussed in our ammonia green fuel primer, using ammonia for combustion only returns about 21 percent of the energy put in to synthesize it.
High-temp solid oxide fuel cells (SOFCs) could potentially get closer to 50 percent of the energy out of ammonia, for use in highly efficient electric motors, but these are still in development and not an option for very early movers.
Shipping is widely regarded as one of the hardest industries to decarbonize; cheap, plentiful marine diesel has made huge cargo ships by far the most economical way to move things internationally in bulk, and while they now only contribute between 2-3 percent of global CO2 emissions, this figure could rise as high as 17 percent by 2050 as other sectors eliminate fossil fuels.
So clean shipping is a project of vital importance moving forward, and with ammonia looking to be the most promising clean fuel for long-range shipping, the race to get solutions out onto the water is certainly one worth watching.
Source: Fortescue Metals Group
Disclosure: the author holds a small number of shares in FMG.