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Shell zeroes in on hydrogen and fuel cells to decarbonise shipping

Oil major Shell has singled out hydrogen and fuel cells as playing important roles to achieving a decarbonised shipping by 2050, while the immediate use of LNG as fuel can help to lower greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) today.

In a new report ‘Decarbonising Shipping: Setting Shell’s Course’, Shell considers the potential role of different future fuels, with its analysis pointing to hydrogen with fuel cells as the zero-emissions technology with the greatest potential to help the shipping sector achieve net-zero emissions by 2050.

Shell said it will seek to advance its research in this area, as hydrogen is projected to benefit from build-out across other industry and transport sectors, making it potentially more cost competitive than alternative zero-emissions fuels.

“The shipping industry needs to develop the new technologies, fuels and infrastructure required for a net-zero emissions sector at a pace never previously seen,” said Grahaeme Henderson, global head of Shell Shipping & Maritime.

“We have listened to our customers and partners in the sector and we have set ourselves an ambitious course. I hope that by doing so, openly and transparently, others will be encouraged to join us and help create a net-zero emissions future for shipping,” he said.

While Shell acknowledged that clean hydrogen can be expensive to produce today, it is attracting interest as a potential fuel for power and land-based transport and as a possible feedstock for industry. These other sectors could help develop and pay for some of the production and distribution infrastructure needed for hydrogen’s use as a shipping fuel.

“The shipping sector should stand ready to capitalise on that development. As a fuel, it can be switched in to use with ‘fuel-agnostic’ fuel cells which have been developed using LNG first,” the Shell report mentioned.

Fuel cells, used to convert fuel into electricity, and a proven technology for land-based power, could replace internal combustion engine technology, leading to reduced need for significant auxiliary power plant which then leads to improved ship design with additional space for cargo.

“They also have the advantage of being able to work using a range of fuel types, including hydrogen or ammonia, which, if produced from renewable energy would result in zero-emissions shipping,” the report wrote.

“While the available scale and global supply infrastructure for hydrogen and ammonia is being developed, LNG could be used in fuel cells – the only fuel available today to help advance this critical technology. In this way, shipping could lay the foundations for future fuels while securing immediate emissions reductions.”

Compared to heavy fuel oil, from extraction to combustion LNG reduces GHG emissions by up to 21% for two-stroke slow speed engines and up to 15% for four-stroke medium speed engines.

Shell is looking to double its existing LNG bunkering infrastructure on key international trade routes by the mid-2020s.

In addition to LNG, other solutions such as wind assist, air lubrication, advanced engine lubricants and digital optimisation technologies must all be deployed to close the gap to net-zero emissions as much as possible.

Looking ahead to the wider use of hydrogen and fuel cells, Shell will establish consortium to develop and trial fuel cells on a commercial deepsea vessel, and develop standards for use of hydrogen in a marine environment and enable commercial deployment of hydrogen across sectors.

The IMO has adopted a goal to achieve net-zero emissions shipping by 2050, ahead of a 2030 target to reduce CO2 emissions by 40% compared to 2008 levels.

And according to Shell, a zero-emissions fuel is not likely to be available on a commercial scale globally until the 2030s, hence the shipping sector cannot simply wait for its zero-emissions fuel to emerge, but rather action needs to be taken now.

“We will step up our efforts on hydrogen research and development and drive new understanding of the role fuel cells can play. We are growing our LNG, biofuels and offset offers, and developing lubricants which help our customers achieve improved engine efficiency and performance. We are taking action on methane slip, and we are working towards quality emissions data collection and publication to aid transparency,” the Shell report stated.

“What is abundantly clear is that all players in the industry need to address this challenge together. Cooperation across the entire industry will be needed to develop robust solutions – from those funding first movers to ports galvanising their infrastructure eco-systems, and shippers creating demand for lower emission voyages.”

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