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Live from Posidonia

The fire safety risks of alternative fuels

Photo: Survitec Finn K. Harungred.jpeg
Finn Lende-Harung, Commercial Director – Fire Solutions for Survitec
The switch to alternative fuels brings with it new risks in terms of fire safety onboard ship.

Seatrade Maritime News sat down with Finn Lende-Harung, Commercial Director – Fire Solutions for Survitec at Posidonia 2022 to learn more about risks both for alternative fuels currently in use and those in their early stages of development.

The discussion covered five different types of alternative fuels – gas fuels such LNG and LPG, alcohol-based fuels – primarily methanol, hydrogen, ammonia, and batteries. In terms of experience and maturity Survitec has much more experience with gas, methanol and batteries, while ammonia and hydrogen are still in the early stages of development.

Below we look at each fuel type and what Lende-Harung had to say in terms of additional fire safety risks.

Gas - We see both LNG and LPG and from a fire safety perspective they are quite similar. We actually see current solutions we have in our portfolio with modest modifications work quite well, the biggest difference is that we install inert gas systems, typically nitrogen systems to protect the fuel storage areas, similar to what you do on a tanker vessel.

Alcohol-based - Primarily methanol and for most of the current solutions it’s a similar type of liquid to diesel and heavy fuel oils, so the typical fire assistance systems we have - water-based, foam, gas-based systems - work quite well. There’s one key differentiator and that is the type of foam you use, it needs to be alcohol resistant, if it’s not you’re in big trouble.

Hydrogen and Ammonia - When it comes to the safety aspects of these fuels we do see that its significantly more dangerous particularly the explosion danger, and when it comes to ammonia the risk to human health. A simple answer there, if you could say that, is to avoid a fire from ever taking place so you need prevention systems – inert gas systems basically to make sure there’s no chance of a spark in the tanks but also as early detection as you could possibly get. Are there any changes taking place in temperature? Any minimal gas leaks? Those are things you need to invest in to be on the safer side for those types of fuels.

Batteries – Lithium-ion battery fires result in extremely high temperatures, the fire produces its own oxygen, and the fire spreads rapidly through large numbers of small cells that make up the battery.

The problem is that since you can’t remove the oxygen and can typically never remove the fuel the only option you have left is to remove the heat. So, you need to cool it the best you can, and of the fire agents we have today high pressure water mist is best – you throw lots of lots of water on it – what you can do is stop it spread to other cells.