Wärtsilä – “let us partner with you in decarbonisation”

Dec 07 2021

Maritime power company Wärtsilä believes that it can provide useful assistance to shipping companies in making their decarbonisation roadmaps, and it is willing to take on some of the risks in a partnership arrangement.

While the shipping industry is going through an “unprecedented era of change,” it should not be “an era of uncertainty,” said Håkan Agnevall, President & CEO, Wärtsilä Corporation, speaking at a company press event in late May.


Shipping companies should feel comfortable making decisions now. “We are quite certain of the steps which need to be taken,” he said.


And Wärtsilä would like to do more to help shipping companies to make their decarbonisation decisions. “I see Wärtsilä being very well positioned in the big technology transitions that are coming,” he said.


Mr Agnevall joined the company in Feb 2021. He was previously president of Volvo buses.


Maritime decarbonisation “needs to be financially viable, and have the right social dimensions. There will not be one simple solution, there will be different alternative fuels, different ways how to operate.”


“Success will involve technology, including new fuel technologies, fuel flexibility, and integrating of digital solutions. And putting this technology in operation. It needs to work, it needs to have the right reliability. The people component is so important.”


The reason to make changes now is that if we wait longer to decarbonise, we will have a steeper climb in order to achieve the targets, added Roger Holm, President Marine Power & EVP, Wärtsilä Corporation.


To achieve the IMO 2050 target, the shipping fleet needs to be transitioned to run on a different fuel, with about 60 to 100 per cent of shipping on a different fuel by 2050, just 30 years’ time, he said.


“This is an enormous change for the industry and something which has never been done. Owners today are faced with a critical decision about the investments they make.”


The uncertainty of the future landscape is causing problems for shipping companies, because they don’t know how to move ahead, he said.


Collaboration and risk sharing

Wärtsilä is keen to work with shipping companies to “co-create” decarbonisation strategies, Mr Holm said.


This can include assessing the fleet, cross referencing every vessel against relevant indices, defining ambitions, and forming a decarbonisation strategy. This often involves “bridging the gap between reality and aspirations,” he said.


Factors include the type of vessel, age, operating profile, the operator’s decarbonisation ambition, risk appetite, and finances available. The regulatory requirements are not the same for all companies, and some lenders and charterers are setting their own requirements.


Successfully navigating” the decarbonisation challenge needs more than technology, it needs the right strategy. Collaborating with companies which have deep expertise in maritime decarbonisation, such as Wartsila, to help map your pathway, could be a good way forward.


“There is no silver bullet for this solution, it is a combination of different solutions that will deliver the desired outcome. This is where our know-how, knowledge and capabilities come into play.”


“For us it is important to see how we can make solutions for each specific vessel,” he said. “It is not any more good to say let's wait and see.”


“We can identify the right solution for a single vessel or an entire fleet, make a tailor made path to decarbonisation, specify the correct mix of technologies,” he said.


“For new build vessels [the biggest issue is often] about fuel storage flexibility,” he said.


Risk sharing

Wärtsilä is prepared to share some of the risks of using new fuels with its customers, including making guarantees about certain outcomes for fuel consumption and emission, Mr Holm said.


“In many ways decarbonisation is .. working together with customers in a different way,” he said.


“Our agreements have a proven track record of generating both expense saving [from lower maintenance costs] and emissions reduction.


One such agreement, with a cruise shipping customer, generated Eur 12m savings per year. 


Another agreement with an LNG carrier fleet led to a reduced unplanned maintenance cost of 69 per cent over 2 years, with the customer gaining total benefits of Eur 14m.


Doing risk sharing around fuel and emissions is not something new for Wartsila, although projects in the past have been more centred around fuel costs than emissions.


Fuel options

“Although we don't have an all-encompassing solution that would help decarbonise maritime today, we do have several which can act as a stepping stone,” said Juha Kytölä, Director, R&D and Engineering, Wärtsilä Marine Power.


One option soon to be available is methanol fuel. Both methanol and LNG contain carbon (one carbon atom and four hydrogen atoms per molecule) and so emit CO2 when combusted, but at lower levels than standard fuel oil. But methanol has the advantage of not having a ‘methane slip’ problem. It is also a liquid at normal temperatures, boiling at 64 degrees C.


Wärtsilä first converted a vessel to run on methanol as a marine fuel in 2015.


For a zero carbon fuel, the options are hydrogen and ammonia.


If you are running on hydrogen fuel, you have a choice of carrying it compressed or liquefied, said Mikael Wideskog, Director, Sustainable Fuels & decarbonisation, Wärtsilä Marine Power.


The volumetric density of hydrogen is 8 MJ/litre as a liquid, about 1.5 MJ/ Litre as compressed gas at 150 bar, 2.8 MJ/litre at 350 bar, and about 5 MJ/litre at 700 bar.


For hydrogen in liquid form, you need temperatures of minus 253 degrees “which is colder than anything put on a vessel so far”. That’s colder than LNG, which is minus 160 degrees C.


Ammonia may be a more practical fuel, since it only needs cooling to -33 degrees C to be in liquid form. In 2021 Wärtsilä will demonstrate an engine running on ammonia, initially with a fuel which is 40 per cent ammonia blend, in a test facility in Finland. It will increase its ammonia testing over 2022.


Discussions about ammonia are just starting, said Mr Wideskog.


A disadvantage of ammonia compared to today’s fuels is the lower volumetric energy density, which means you need either bigger tanks or an increased bunkering frequency. The energy density of liquid ammonia is 11.5 MJ/litre, compared to 32 MJ/litre for gasoline.


But that’s still much better than hydrogen, and without needing the energy for compression or a thick storage tank which can handle compressed gas.


We only have ammonia based on fossil fuel at the moment. It is possible for the CO2 to be sequestered into the ground rather than emitted. This is known as the “blue option”, making hydrogen from gas with carbon capture, and using this hydrogen to make ammonia.


It is possible in future we will see “green” or synthetic ammonia made from hydrogen from renewable electricity and electrolysis of water, but it is not yet available, he said.


You also need to consider the toxicity of ammonia.


Knutson group

Synnøve Seglem, deputy managing director of Knutson Group, said that the company believes that the internal combustion engine, together with zero carbon fuels, still offers the “most promising path towards complete decarbonisation”, rather than fuel cells or nuclear power.


“Combustion engines offer enormous potential for rapid emission reduction,” she said. “Fuel flexible engine technology gives an upgrade path for existing and new vessels.”


Knutson Group has a fleet of 15 LNG carriers, 29 shuttle tankers, 2 FSOs, and 3 chemical tankers.


The key factors for Knutson are availability of the fuel, and the capex and opex costs of using it.


“Carbon neutral fuels typically require existing equipment to be modified at least for some of the fuels. Those fuels are likely to be more expensive than fossil fuels, at least initially,” she said.


Also, most carbon neutral fuels have a lower energy density compared to fuel oil, so need bigger storage tanks for the same vessel range. So the vessel structure needs to be considered.


Other factors are the need to store hydrogen at cryogenic temperatures, the toxicity of ammonia, and the capacity of shipyards to make modifications.


Ms Seglem does not expect green synthetic fuels (gas or liquid hydrocarbon fuels made using hydrogen from renewables and recycled CO2) to be available to the shipping industry until “close to 2040”.


We are likely to see “multi fuel technology” – engines which can use different fuels, she said.


Knutson sees methanol as “the next fuel in the road map,” after LNG, since it has already been introduced to the market, with previous generation engines being retrofitted to run on it.


The third fuel Knutson is planning to test is ammonia, which is carbon free.


“The combustion concepts to maximise engine performance and related safety technologies [with ammonia] are being investigated as we speak,” she said.


A further possiblity is using a natural gas and hydrogen blend, up to 20 per cent hydrogen by volume. “We are further studying concepts to bring the share of the hydrogen higher up to full use,” she said.


Knutson is looking at stainless steel vacuum insulated LNG tanks, which could also be used for storing methanol, ammonia and synthetic methane.


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