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How To Advance Ammonia As A Marine Fuel: Charting A Path Towards Decarbonized Shipping

Blog Article - June 11, 2021

Advancing Ammonia as an alternative marine fuel to decarbonize shipping was the theme of a Masterclass which Jérôme Leprince-Ringuet, Vice President, Marine Fuels, at TotalEnergies, delivered at the recent Movin’ On Summit – The World Summit on Sustainable Mobility. In this blog article, Jérôme recaps his insights on the reasons Ammonia is a serious marine fuel contender, and the key challenges to be resolved to realize its potential.



Shipping is a critical link to globalisation, with 90% of the world’s trade carried by shipping and the global bunker market is expected to continue to grow. We estimate that global bunker demand could increase from about 300 million tonnes today, to reach at least 400 million tonnes by 2050.

This potential market growth lies in the fact that compared to other forms of freight transport, such as air and road, shipping is not only the lowest emitting and lowest energy-consuming form of transport, but also the most cost efficient.

Still, the shipping industry has acknowledged its role in climate change and is striving to reduce its environmental impact. In April 2018, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) adopted a greenhouse (GHG) reduction strategy. With 2008 as a baseline year, this strategy aims to reduce at least 50% total GHG emissions from shipping by 2050, and a vision to achieve net-zero emissions within this century.

There are short-term, operational enhancements available to the industry – such as slow steaming, shore power, and vessel load and route optimization strategies – to improve the efficiencies of the current global fleet. However, reaching the mandated IMO decarbonization targets, ultimately, will require longer-term solutions such as alternative fuels and associated new ship designs, both of which require significant investment in research and development (R&D) before they are ready to be used at scale.

Looking at Alternative Fuel Solutions

In terms of the alternative fuel solutions available today, biofuels should be more strongly promoted to supplement today’s market, given that they can be blended into existing fuels and fleets.

Clearly, LNG is the cleanest marine fuel solution available at scale today, delivering a range of benefits in helping to drive down GHG emissions, improve ports’ air quality with assurance that the fuel does not release any black carbon. LNG also provides us with the gateway to the development of next generation solutions, including BioLNG.

Nevertheless, the future fuels mix for the shipping industry will need the lowest-emitting fuel solutions derived from renewable electricity to decarbonize the sector, and I believe one of the most promising candidates is Liquid Ammonia.

Why do I believe in Ammonia as a fuel for the future?

While Ammonia is primarily known for its use in products such as fertilizers and explosives, it can also function as a high-quality hydrogen carrier.

Created a century ago, about 200 million tonnes of Ammonia is produced annually today through a highly mastered process.

Compared to hydrogen, ammonia has 4 key advantages as a marine fuel:

So what is needed to start using Ammonia as a marine fuel?

It is not completely ready to go and there are some challenges ahead:

  • Safety – Ammonia is extremely toxic by inhalation. 1000ppm is a deadly level, so if you spill 20 litres of Ammonia in an engine room, this would be enough to reach this level. Additionally, in a vessel engine, you are flowing thousands of litres per hour through the engine, which multiplies the safety risks involved. Safety assessments and guidelines must be developed to ensure Ammonia release incidents do not happen.
  • Engines – Engine makers are developing these engines but we are unlikely to have a commercial engine available before 2025. Additionally, we need to control the ignition process, as Ammonia is difficult to ignite. We also have to consider emissions at the stack of the chimney. More R&D will be required to prevent any emissions of nitrogen oxide, Ammonia slip (unburnt Ammonia) or nitrous oxide with high GHG.
  • Ship Design – We need to ensure that these developments are built into accredited ship designs.. This is a very important step, which will require collaboration with IMO, class societies and engine makers.
  • Bunkering Infrastructure – As a new bunker fuel, Ammonia will demand the creation of Ammonia bunker vessels, new regulations and guidelines across all aspects of the supply chain for a successful start-up. For this, I believe the industry’s experience from the development of other cryogenic marine fuel, such as LNG bunkering, will help to inform the process.

When it comes to challenges however, the elephant in the room for Ammonia as a truly practical marine fuel solution is supply, which consequently has an impact on scalability and affordability.

While my view is that Ammonia will never be at parity with existing conventional fuel oil, we must see how we can drive down its price to make it more affordable.

To illustrate the supply magnitude required for Ammonia marine fuel:

To reach half of the market demand by 2050, we may need more than 400m tonnes of Ammonia. Achieving this quantity will require 1000 gigawatts of renewable energy capacity just for the shipping industry.

My point is, scaling Ammonia production to supply the shipping industry will require trillions of dollars of investment. At the same time, it necessitates a regulatory framework, more visibility and supportive policies to ensure the production of green ammonia at scale will meet its demand.

Speeding up Ammonia fuel development

So what are we doing as an industry to speed up the development of Ammonia as a marine fuel?

R&D is critical, and at TotalEnergies, we are joining forces along with other key industry leaders to intensify our investigation of this future fuel. These projects include:

Furthermore, since 2019, TotalEnergies’ membership in the Ammonia Energy Association – a global industry association that promotes the responsible use of ammonia in a sustainable energy economy – has enabled the Company to deepen its investigation of Ammonia within its portfolio of clean energy technologies.

These efforts underscore TotalEnergies’ aspiration to be a world-class player in the energy transition to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050, together with society. As part of TotalEnergies’ strategy, it will develop broad energy solutions for mobility to take carbon out of transport.

Nonetheless, there remains an inherent chicken-and-egg dilemma. When will demand start growing and when will we have enough supply to meet demand?

To resolve this challenge, we need policy makers to provide supportive policies that give greater visibility and help to better promote these future fuels. We need carbon pricing mechanisms to incentivise usage of these low- and zero-carbon fuels, and that will require harmonization across international bodies including IMO.

Container ship entering the port of Singapore

Moving Forward

Without doubt, the future of shipping will be comprised of a mix of fuel solutions and we need all of them to meet future fuel demands. We need a clear regulatory framework to create greater visibility and a level playing field for all fuel solutions.

Among the various alternatives considered, Ammonia is an innovative solution and potentially a best-in-class, future solution. Nonetheless, its commercialization as a marine fuel will likely come only in the 2030’s.

Whilst we are waiting for the advancement of these future fuels, it is vital that we start moving away from heavy fuel oil and use the solutions of today – LNG, BioLNG and Biofuels

Jérôme Leprince-Ringuet, Managing Director of Total Marine Fuels Global Solutions
Jérôme Leprince-Ringuet , Vice President, Marine Fuels, TotalEnergies


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