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.
It seems polluting gases come from every burned fuel. Now we find that LNG, a fuel that is reputedly cleaner than heavy diesel oil for ships, is likely to create ‘leaked methane’ around the cylinders, allowing it to escape to the open air.
Apparently there are two types of LNG engines: one with ‘tight’ cylinders, and one with ‘loose’ cylinders. The ones with loose cylinders are much cheaper to install, but also leak the methane most. It’s thought that carriers will tend to install the cheaper ones.