Green fuels mark sea change for shipping: Maersk in talk with Siemens Energy to decarbonize fleet by 2050

The world’s largest container shipping company, A.P. Moller – Maersk, has ambitious goals to decarbonize its fleet. With converting renewable energy to e-Fuels identified as one of the right solutions, a collaboration with Siemens Energy could generate vital synergies. 

 

By Niels Anner

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As climate change becomes an increasingly urgent problem, ocean shipping is facing significant technological changes. The fossil fuels that have dominated the sector for more than a hundred years will be replaced in the coming years as the shipping industry looks for ways to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions. Currently shipping accounts for 2 to 3 percent of global emissions – a share that will rise with growing trade if left unchecked. The United Nations International Maritime Organization (IMO) has therefore set a target to reduce emissions by 50 percent in 2050 (relative to 2008). But A.P. Moller – Maersk, the world’s largest container shipping company, is moving ahead with a distinctly more ambitious goal: By 2050, Maersk wants to be entirely carbon-neutral. 

Taking container ships beyond energy efficiency

“In 2030, we aim to have a 60 percent reduction in emissions compared to 2008 and have the first carbon-neutral ship in operation,” says Ole Graa Jakobsen, Vice President and Head of Fleet Technology at Maersk. To achieve this, efficiency improvements alone won’t be enough. Instead, because ocean vessels are built to last for 20 to 30 years, the course must be set now. Looking for the right solutions, Maersk is investing substantially in research. And it has become clear that a net-zero CO2 target requires carbon-neutral propulsion fuels and innovative technologies.

 

“Because the industry wants to change in a relatively short time, we have to work together and focus on a small number of solutions,” says Jakobsen. Maersk and Lloyd’s Register have already identified the three most suitable alternatives to fossil fuels: alcohols, biomethane and ammonia. “We don’t think there will be one single solution,” Jakobsen adds, “so these are our three best choices right now.”

 

The shipping industry already uses technologies that can handle two of these liquid fuels. The propulsion engines powered by liquefied natural gas (LNG) can also run on biomethane, and the existing fossil fuel engines and fuel handling systems can run on alcohols, such as ethanol and methanol. It’s also possible to blend these fuels with conventional ones to reduce the overall carbon footprint. 

'' Because the industry wants to change in a relatively short time, we have to work together and focus on a small number of solutions. ''
Ole Graa Jakobsen, Vice President and Head of Fleet Technology, Maersk
Shipping with e-Fuels: The challenges are on land

All three solutions are carbon-neutral or, in the case of ammonia, even carbon-free when produced with Power-to-X as an e-Fuel using wind or solar power. Power-to-X refers to technology that uses a process called electrolysis to convert electrical energy from renewables into green hydrogen or e-Hydrogen. The e-Hydrogen can then be reconverted into electricity or further processed into e-Fuels using nitrogen or carbon taken either from biomass, industrial processes or extracted directly from the air.

 

To build up this new energy system on a scale large enough for sufficient fuel production, a huge capital expenditure is imperative, says Jakobsen. Thus, the biggest challenge in switching to e-Fuels is not at sea but on land. Maersk is therefore looking for technology providers, such as Siemens Energy, who are able to establish the required infrastructure. The two companies have already had several meetings to discuss a potential cooperation. “Siemens as a technology provider and Maersk as an end user of e-Fuels could generate a lot of synergies by working together,” says Jakobsen.

 

Another challenge is that “carbon-neutral fuels will be more expensive than fossil fuels,” says Ole Graa Jakobsen. Therefore, the shipping industry and the fuel providers need regulation and political incentives to stimulate change. Maersk customers did express support for carbon-neutral goods when Maersk started offering the use of biofuels, which could indicate that customers may accept higher prices for carbon-neutral transport. 

Sector coupling and the potential of Power-to-X

As a pioneer in wind power generation and with vast experience from large infrastructure projects, Siemens Energy is committed to investment in new technologies with both environmental and business benefits, says Gerhard Zimmermann, Innovation Manager for Hydrogen and Power-to-X at Siemens Energy. Siemens Energy sees an enormous potential in Power-to-X technology for decarbonization that goes far beyond the energy supply. By converting wind and solar energy into a chemical compound that can be stored and transported to places of consumption, Power-to-X can couple and decarbonize all sectors of the economy with renewable energy. In the meantime, however, Zimmermann says, “green fuels can facilitate the shipping industry’s transition to carbon-neutral fuels because they can be mixed with fossil fuels.”

 

Siemens Energy offers all the necessary equipment for the production of e-Fuels, such as electrolyzers, compressors and storage facilities. “It’s like the Danish Lego system,” Zimmerman says, the components just have to be put together. Siemens Energy has already developed electrolyzer facilities on a small scale to produce green hydrogen without carbon emissions, and in development projects, combining renewable energy, electrolysis and carbon capture have already been realized. “Now,” says Zimmermann, “we need pioneers like Maersk to start the production of e-Fuels on a larger scale.” This should also send a message to other branches in maritime with large vessels, such as cruise liners: Solutions for decarbonization are ready.

'' We need pioneers like Maersk to start the production of e-Fuels on a larger scale.''
Gerhard Zimmermann, Innovation Manager for Hydrogen and Power-to-X, Siemens Energy
Creating a universal e-Fuel hub

Working together with large global partners would also spur on the construction of an e-Fuel platform that could serve multiple transportation sectors: on land, at sea and in air. “Methanol,” says Zimmermann, “has the perfect attributes for the creation of a universal e-Fuel hub,” adding that it is easy to produce, easy to use and opens itself up to a range of syntheses that can help decarbonize mobility and, potentially, the chemical sector as well. Of course, he continues, to attract investments and create a market of scale that would bring down the costs of e-Fuels, it is crucial to present a sound business case, but partnering with Maersk would already be a strong start.

 

With its ambitious CO2 strategy, Maersk wants to help generate demand for green fuels and decarbonize the shipping industry. Jakobsen is convinced, conditions are good: “We see other companies starting to think about solutions for the future and being open to cooperation. And we agree: We can’t just sit on the fence. We need to act.” 

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Dec 10, 2019

Niels Anner is an independent journalist based in Copenhagen, who writes on business, science, technology and society in Northern Europe.

 

Combined picture credits: A.P. Møller – Maersk, preview images: A.P. Møller – Maersk A/S; Nick Souza Photography ©2018

Power-to-X is the key technology to convert energy from renewable resources into chemical forms (gas, liquid) for long-term storage and transport.

 

E-Hydrogen or green hydrogen is its core component and can be further processed into e-Fuels with carbon (alcohols, biomethane) or nitrogen (ammonia).

 

Alcohol (methanol, ethanol) has several production pathways (biomass or Power-to-X), is suitable for existing engines and fuel handling and can be blended with conventional fossil fuels. Methanol can also be converted to gasoline using present-day technologies, and research on its conversion into jet fuel is currently under way.

 

Biomethane can use the supply chain and propulsion engines already being built for LNG. Gas needs to be cooled down and calls for increased safety requirements. Challenge: methane slip in supply chain.

 

Ammonia is carbon-free and has no biomaterial source. It is highly toxic and calls for new safety requirements on board.

A.P. Møller – Maersk is an integrated container logistics company working to connect and simplify its customers’ supply chains. As the global leader in shipping services, the company operates in 130 countries and employs roughly 76,000 people.

IMO – the International Maritime Organization – is the United Nations specialized agency with responsibility for the safety and security of shipping and the prevention of marine and atmospheric pollution by ships. IMO's work supports the UN SDGs.