UCL Energy Institute is a very influential research group. The UCL part is University College London. Their investigation of LNG-fueled vessels indicates that these ships are not on the best path to reduce carbon emissions. Thus, many of them being built now will need to be scrapped early.
The study could be quite influential. Shipowners have recently been investing in LNG-powered ships to produce reduced emissions now, especially since methane emissions are not being measured as they should. LNG ships emit methane, a worse greenhouse gas than CO2, through slip from the engine and the fuel handling operations. Most ships have not put in place advanced methane recovery systems.
The ships involved are dual-fuel ships that burn both oil and LNG, as well as single-fuel LNG powered ships.
The scientific evidence seems to indicate that LNG power may actually be worse than Low Sulphur Heavy Fuel Oil (LSHFO) when all the lifecycle emissions are analyzed. So the ultimate economic effect of the now LNG builds may turn out to be quite a waste of money.
The full report from the UCL Institute can be read here.
Amazon, IKEA, Unilever– major names in commerce, and major users of ocean shipping. And others as well, they have signed a pledge to make sure their shipping is zero-carbon powered by 2040.
That’s a long time away, 20 years; the approximate lifetime of a ship. but it means that these shippers will not be booking on LNG powered vessels.
So is LNG-powered shipping marked for extinction?
I think it’s very possible. Aside from its use of fossil fuel, though cleaner than traditional bunkers, there’s the problem of methane emission.That requires even more re-engineering. In the oil field, despite the fact that the technology is readily available, methane emissions and flaring are still common. It’s a governance question. Better to avoid fossil fuel products altogether.
The World Bank says it will not back using LNG for marine transport. It says that LNG is a source of methane emissions, which are currently unmeasured but which could overwhelm any advantage in CO2 reduction created by moving away from heavy fuel oil (HFO). LPG-powered ships often emit some methane as they burn the Propane gas.
Methane is well known as a bad source of pollution. One source is from cows, such as those confined to feedlots. But there are many others, including flaring gas from oil wells, fracking gas operations, and landfills. Nowadays at some landfills, methane is captured— pipes are sunk into the fill and the methane pumped to a generating station, to provide energy to operate the landfill’s equipment. It’s a good fuel when trapped, and burned into hydrogen and oxygen.
LNG is the symbol for Liquefied Natural Gas, and it consists largely of methane.
The World Bank prefers green hydrogen fuel for projects.
Not everyone agrees. some of the pushback has started already. Something like 25% of the newbuild ships today are slated to be LNG-powered. Perhaps more engineering needs to be applied to those ships, to reduce methane emissions.