At the shipyard of HD Hyundai Heavy Industries (HD HHI) in Ulsan, South Korea, the world’s first vessel on ‘green methanol’ carrying up to 16 592 twenty-feet shipping containers (TEU) has been baptized ‘Ane Mærsk’. At the beginning of February, it will enter service connecting Asia and Europe
The 350-meter-long vessel is Mærsk’s second container ship on methanol; after launching the Laura Mærsk in September last year, this one has a capacity of only 2 100 TEU. Maersk has ordered 24 container vessels equipped with dual-fuel engines capable of burning methanol, biodiesel, and conventional bunker fuel. Eleven of them are the same size as the Ane Maersk. Six will be larger, with a capacity of 17 000 TEU, six smaller (9 000 TEU).
Still emitting CO2
Burning methanol (CH3OH) in a combustion engine releases CO2. But like in the case of ‘blue hydrogen’, it is called ‘carbon-neutral’ when made using captured CO2 combined with ‘green’ hydrogen from renewable sources like wind energy or solar. CO2 reacts with hydrogen to form methanol at a pressure of 5-10 MPa and temperature of 210-270°C.
Mærsk is said to have secured 500 000 tons a year of ‘green’ and ‘bio’ methanol from Chinese wind turbine manufacturer Goldwind, the largest deal of its kind so far. It will be used already on Ane Mærsk’s maiden trip. The Danish shipping giant says it continues to work on sourcing and bunkering solutions for its methanol-enabled vessel fleet in 2024-2025.
According to Bloomberg, the billionaire family behind the shipping company is also forming a company aimed at an annual production capacity of more than 3 million tons by 2030.
Maersk defines ‘green fuels’ as fuels with low to very low greenhouse gas emissions over their life cycle compared to fossil fuels. Different green fuels achieve different life cycle reductions depending on their production pathway.
By ‘low’, they refer to fuels with 65-80% life cycle GHG reductions compared to fossil fuels. This covers, e.g., some biodiesels. ‘Very low’ refers to fuels with 80-95% life cycle GHG reductions compared to fossil fuels.
“By 2030, our ambition is to have 25% of the volume that we transport to be transported using green fuels,” Leonardo Sonzio, head of fleet management and technology at Maersk, told the Bloomberg press agency in an interview.
Sonzio says Mærsk is also considering using other green fuels, including ammonia, as an even 100% green fuel. “Ammonia is a very interesting fuel because it doesn’t have a carbon molecule in it, and it’s quite scalable,” Sonzio told Bloomberg, adding the substance still has safety concerns due to its toxicity.
Belgian shipowners’ family Saverys is taking the forefront of greening the world’s tanker business with ammonia. Exmar, a leading player in transporting liquefied gas products like LPG, butane, propane, and ammonia, has ordered the world’s first two gas tankers that can run on the ammonia they transport.
Ammonia molecules contain one part of nitrogen and three parts of hydrogen (NH3). Today, it is mostly made from natural gas, a non-sustainable process mainly used for fertilizers. However, it has applications in far more domains like wastewater treatment, cold storage, refrigeration systems, printing and cosmetics industries, and in the production of pharmaceuticals.
Liquified at -33°C
But there is a more sustainable way. The general idea is that ‘green’ hydrogen can be made in regions like the Middle East or Chile with a lot of solar and wind power, converted to ammonia by adding nitrogen and transported in ships to Europe. Once in Europe, it can easily be reconverted into hydrogen, which can be used for fuel cell vehicles.
Ammonia has the advantage that it can be liquified at -33°C and transported in colossal ammonia tankers, similar to today’s fleet of liquified natural gas tankers. For hydrogen to become liquid, it has to be cooled in cryogenic conditions to minus 253°C, making it more difficult and expensive to handle and distribute.