Shell trial of hydrogen fuel cell for ships among projects planned for maritime decarbonisation

The aim is to reduce total greenhouse gas emissions from international shipping by at least 50 per cent by 2050.
The aim is to reduce total greenhouse gas emissions from international shipping by at least 50 per cent by 2050.PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE – A Shell trial to use hydrogen fuel cells for ships, the first experiment of its kind in Singapore, is among 14 projects aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the maritime sector.

The flurry of projects, coming in response to the recommendations of an international panel, also include converting ferries calling at Pulau Bukom to run on electricity and building new ships that use methanol and ammonia as marine fuel.

Driven by a range of public and private entities, these aim at using the large port and developed research institutions here to pilot experiments that could make a difference to a sector that currently emits two per cent of global carbon - and perhaps yield commercial profits.

Chief of these projects is the Maritime and Port Authority-headed $120 million global decarbonisation centre announced on Monday, which will be the headquarters from which scores of research and development projects will be coordinated.

Meanwhile, multinational companies ABS Group and NOV will be partners in studying how best to store, recover and transport green ammonia, a renewable fuel made from sunlight, air and water.

Maritime data organisation Baltic exchange is also exploring publishing the carbon footprint for commonly-plied maritime trade routes.

The projects have taken shape even before the Ministry of Transport has formally accepted the recommendations of the International Advisory Panel on Maritime Decarbonisation.

It helped that many of the companies involved had representatives on the body, which met nine times between July last year and Wednesday.

Co-chair of the panel Andreas Sohmen-Pao said that while nine "pathways to decarbonisation" that the panel eventually proposed are necessarily more general, a major focus of the group's meeting was to deliver concrete action.

"It was not to write a thought paper, not to debate the details of specific technologies, but to form collaborations, and to make things do so by shaping carbon measures, by setting standards, by piloting innovations, by building infrastructure, by deploying incentives, and by connecting stakeholders," he said.

"Our goal was to develop a strategy to support the maritime industry with decarbonisation, and to propose how maritime Singapore can contribute to these global efforts. Everyone is aware that decarbonisation is a very complex topic, and it needs the cooperation of multiple actors in the value chain."

The body, set up by the Singapore Maritime Foundation last year, comprises 30 leaders from maritime and related organisations, including shipping associations, shipping companies, port operators, energy companies, engine makers, shipyards, insurance and finance players, and academia.

It eventually settled on nine proposals, meant as broad strategies through which stakeholders can take their cue. Although the report was submitted to the Singapore Government this week, it is also available online, so that the international community can make reference to it.

The proposals to the Singapore Government are:

- to shape common metrics for carbon accounting so that standardised data can be used to track progress

- to set standards for new technologies and solutions so that systems are interoperable and safe

- to pilot trials and deploy solutions to find the largest number of workable answers

- to build flexible ship capabilities and relevant infrastructure that will allow for a gradual transition to zero-carbon fuels

- to develop green financing mechanisms to make sure efforts do not run out of funds

- to develop mechanisms that could support carbon pricing, making sure that fuel prices incentivise change

- to act as custodian for and deploy research and development funds and grants

- to multiply local, regional and global collaboration across stakeholders

- and to set up a decarbonisation centre, which the Maritime and Port Authority has already accepted

Senior Minister of State for Foreign Affairs and Transport Chee Hong Tat said the recommendations are but the first step Singapore will take in its efforts to decarbonise the industry, noting that stakeholders will have to continue to keep an open mind and embrace multiple solutions to problems.

For instance, the industry might not need to choose between liquefied natural gas, hydrogen and ammonia as lower- or zero-carbon solutions.

"I don't believe that we have one single silver bullet that can solve the entire decarbonisation challenge for the industry but what we need is actually to be open to look at a range of possibilities, some shorter term, some medium and longer term, some we are more ready to implement, some we are at an early stage of planning.

"Maybe the final outcome is a combination of all of the above."

He added: "This report represents many months of hard work by the panel, in consultation with government and industry stakeholders...I hope...Singapore can play our part in supporting this overall transition by the global maritime industry."

The International Maritime Organisation aims to reduce total greenhouse gas emissions from international shipping by at least 50 per cent by 2050, and to achieve zero emissions as soon as possible within this century.

For the first time, the International Chamber of Shipping, along with other industry groups, together representing over 90 per cent of maritime trade, have also issued a joint submission to the International Maritime Organisation to call on it to bring forward market-based mechanisms to help decarbonise global shipping.

The industry had never before this endorsed putting a price on carbon dioxide emissions.