Finnish technology group Wärtsilä has started testing ammonia as a potential fuel to help the shipping industry reduce its greenhouse gas emissions.
“The first tests have yielded promising results and we will continue to optimise combustion parameters,” said Kaj Portin, General Manager, Fuel & Operational Flexibility, Wärtsilä Marine. “This is an important step in making sure that Wärtsilä can provide the engine and fuel systems that ship owners need, whichever fuel they choose in the future.”
As part of the tests, ammonia was injected into a combustion research unit to better understand its properties. Based on initial results, the tests will continue on both dual-fuel and spark-ignited gas engines, followed by field tests in collaboration with shipowners from 2022, says Wärtsilä. Tests may also be carried out with energy customers in the future.
The use of ammonia has emerged as a possible carbon-free alternative fuel as the shipping industry seeks ways to meet with International Maritime Organization’s long-term goal of cutting greenhouse gas emissions from ships by 50% from 2008 levels by 2050. Although ammonia is derived mainly from fossil sources today, down the road ammonia’s greenhouse gas footprint can be nearly eliminated if it is produced using electricity from renewable sources.
Wärtsilä is aiming to develop a complete ammonia fuel solution that comprises engines, fuel supply and storage. The company is currently developing ammonia storage and supply systems as part of the EU project ShipFC to install ammonia fuel cells on Eidesvik Offshore’s supply vessel Viking Energy by 2023, and has gained additional experience with ammonia through designing cargo handling systems for liquid petroleum gas carriers.
The company notes that although ammonia has a number of properties that require further investigation. For one, it ignites and burns poorly compared to other fuels and is toxic and corrosive, making safe handling and storage a key issue. B
urning ammonia could also lead to higher NOx emissions unless controlled either by after-treatment or by optimizing the combustion process. A regulatory framework and class rules will also need to be developed for its use as a marine fuel.