Shipbuilder examines fuels of the future

14 May 2024

Damen Shipyards’ Joost Mathôt takes a look at the multiple options fueling the fuels debate

All around the world, new regulations are coming into force that will require maritime operators to report, and reduce, the carbon impact of their fleets. To say this presents a challenge to the industry is to understate the situation, according to Damen Shipyards Group.

For one thing, carbon reduction technology requires an increase in CAPEX – and frequently OPEX – at a time when it offers no increase in earning potential.

Damen Shipyards To date, full vessel electrification has been limited to public transport boats such as ferries and waterbuses, and to harbor tugs. (Photo: Damen Shipyards)

A further challenge exists. In most cases, the technology has not yet reached a state of maturity. As such, no one knows for sure what the future maritime energy transition looks like.

Much to consider

Joost Mathôt, Damen Shipyards Group’s director, Products Workboats Division, acknowledges the difficulty of finding an answer.

“There are a lot of different views out there about the fuels of the future. For us, as vessel designers, that leaves us a lot to consider,” Mathôt commented.

The different directions in which stakeholders are facing is often related to perspective. “Depending how you look at it, you’re going to reach different conclusions. If you only take energy density into consideration, then you would probably choose to go in the direction of methanol. If, however, you’re focused on toxicity, you might look towards batteries,” Mathôt explained.

None of the currently available alternative fuel types provides a definitive solution. Plus, the origins of the fuels raise further questions.

On the surface, methanol, for example, can offer significant reductions in emissions. But is it grey methanol, blue methanol or green methanol? All have different emissions implications from well-to-wake.

It’s the same with electrification. An electric operation is often referred to synonymously as zero emissions. But if that operation is drawing energy from a coal power station, then emissions reduction is only taking place locally – from tank-to-wake. The problem has simply been moved ashore.

Exploring all options

This doesn’t mean that action shouldn’t be taken. Indeed, Damen is exploring all possible options.

“We’ve been spoiled by diesel,” said Mathôt. “It has a high energy density and can be used for all operations, anywhere in the world. The fuels of the future will not have those characteristics. There will be no ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution.

“We need to look at this as a multi-criteria problem, which can have different outcomes depending on the context in which a vessel will operate.”

For example, Damen has had successes with vessel electrification. The company has delivered, and is currently constructing, a number of fully electric ships.

Damen Shipyards The dual-fuel hydrogen-powered Commissioning Service Operations Vessels being built for CMB.TECH will be operational from 2025. (Photo: Damen Shipyards)

There are limitations, however, on how far this can be taken. “Our strategy is to electrify where possible, when there is sufficient electricity available, enough charging points and enough time to recharge,” said Mathôt. “This demands that the vessel remain in the same general area during operation.”

For that reason, full vessel electrification has, to date, been limited to public transport boats such as ferries and waterbuses, and to harbor tugs. Damen has also unveiled a fully electric Service Operations Vessel (SOV) that is able to charge from a turbine or substation at an offshore wind farm.

Overcoming range anxiety

Meanwhile, when more range is required, you need to consider alternatives.

“It will depend on the operation, on the vessel type, even on the location of the operation – what infrastructure is available, and which fuel type can be most readily produced. Our job is to cover all possible angles,” Mathôt said. “If our clients are asking for it, then within the limits of feasibility, we are either doing it now, or will be doing it in the near future.”

Examples include the Elevation Series of Commissioning Service Operations Vessels (CSOV) that Damen is currently building for CMB.TECH. Designed in cooperation between Damen and its client, these dual-fuel hydrogen-powered vessels will be operational from 2025.

A further example is Damen’s Flex Fuel (FF) Tugs. These vessels are being constructed with conventional diesel engines together with a fuel preparation space. This allows a rapid, cost-efficient transition to hydrogen, methanol or batteries at a later date as the picture clears or it becomes more commercially sensible.

Immediate gains

In the meantime, there are already gains to be made with this fuel flexible approach, Mathôt said.

Damen Shipyards “There will be no ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution,” said Joost Mathôt, Damen Shipyards Group’s director, Products Workboats Division.

“If you combine a biofuel such as HVO with an IMO Tier III-compliant selective catalytic reduction (SCR) system, as you can with these tugs, then you will achieve a CO2 reduction of 85% to 90%, together with an 80% NOX reduction. If you add a ULEV notation then you also dramatically reduce particulate matter emissions. At the current time, while we await the maturation of alternative fuel technologies and wider availability of green fuels, this represents the best solution.”

Once again, however, the answer poses further questions. There are limitations on the production of HVO fuel; rising demand would stimulate considerable price increases. The solution, then, is a temporary one. So, what is necessary to ensure the next steps in alternative fuel advancement? Mathôt is clear:

“We need all stakeholders to take a step forward. The operators need to be incentivized and/or there needs to be a level playing field. For that, the whole system needs to move – regulators, bankers, end users, port authorities. We, as the designer, have a part to play in this. We need to be open to collaboration throughout the system.”

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