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A Comparison of Alternative Fuels for Shipping in Terms of Lifecycle Energy and Cost


Decarbonization of the shipping sector is inevitable and can be made by transitioning into low‐ or zero‐carbon marine fuels. This paper reviews 22 potential pathways, including conventional Heavy Fuel Oil (HFO) marine fuel as a reference case, “blue” alternative fuel produced from natural gas, and “green” fuels produced from biomass and solar energy. Carbon capture technology (CCS) is installed for fossil fuels (HFO and liquefied natural gas (LNG)). The pathways are compared in terms of quantifiable parameters including (i) fuel mass, (ii) fuel volume, (iii) life cycle (Well‐To‐ Wake—WTW) energy intensity, (iv) WTW cost, (v) WTW greenhouse gas (GHG) emission, and (vi) non‐GHG emissions, estimated from the literature and ASPEN HYSYS modelling. From an energy perspective, renewable electricity with battery technology is the most efficient route, albeit still impractical for long‐distance shipping due to the low energy density of today’s batteries. The next best is fossil fuels with CCS (assuming 90% removal efficiency), which also happens to be the lowest cost solution, although the long‐term storage and utilization of CO2 are still unresolved. Biofuels offer a good compromise in terms of cost, availability, and technology readiness level (TRL); however, the non‐GHG emissions are not eliminated. Hydrogen and ammonia are among the worst in terms of overall energy and cost needed and may also need NOx clean‐up measures. Methanol from LNG needs CCS for decarbonization, while methanol from biomass does not, and also seems to be a good candidate in terms of energy, financial cost, and TRL. The present analysis consistently compares the various options and is useful for stakeholders involved in shipping decarbonization.

Funding source: This research was funded by the National Research Foundation (NRF).
Related subjects: Applications & Pathways

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