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Gard: Making the case for nuclear power in shipping

Professor Jan Emblemsvåg of the Norwegian University of Science and Technology explains why nuclear power should be in the mix of alternative bunker fuels to power the green transition in shipping.




RESIZED Kinsey on Unsplash

Maritime protection and indemnity (P&I) club Gard on Tuesday (4 July) published an article written by Professor Jan Emblemsvåg of the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, who explains why nuclear power should be in the mix of alternative bunker fuels to power the green transition in shipping: 

Professor Jan Emblemsvåg of the Norwegian University of Science and Technology recently spoke at the Gard Summer Seminar “Making Waves – geopolitics, energy and the future of shipping.” He is a knowledgeable and outspoken proponent of nuclear power for vessel propulsion and made a strong case for including nuclear reactors in the mix of alternative fuels to power the green transition.

Upscaling of green fuels may be unrealistic

Green ammonia is often presented as a solution to decarbonize shipping and large transporters. There is a slight problem, though: volume and energy density.

The large container ships (larger than 10.000 TEUs) exemplify the situation. In 2020, about 580 such large container ships sailed the seas, and they typically consume 250 – 350 tons Heavy Fuel Oil (HFO) every day. This equals an average energy requirement of 3,350 MWh per day since a tonne of HFO has a thermal value of 11.2 MWh/tonne. As ammonia has a thermal value of 5.2 MWh/tonne, such a ship requires about twice as much green ammonia as HFO in terms of volume.

Green ammonia requires electrolysis, and somewhere between 9 – 15 MWh per tonne is required. Using the center point, we find that to replace 1 TWh thermal energy in shipping, 2.2 TWh of electric energy is required when using green ammonia. The annual global marine fuel consumption is about 300 million tonnes annually. Using the same calculation, the amount of electricity required is 7,778 TWh/yr, or almost 2.7 times the total EU electricity production in 2021 (2,888 TWh/yr).

For context, the total greenhouse gas emissions from the marine industry are about 3% of the total global emissions. This amounts to just over the emissions of Germany as a whole country. Indeed, without any effective countermeasures, international shipping is expected to reach 10 – 13% of global emissions within a few decades.

Clearly, the case for decarbonization of shipping is not only very demanding but also highly unrealistic with today’s path. Fresh thinking is required.

Shipping going nuclear

The nuclear option comes on the table simply by energy density. Natural uranium contains 3 million times more energy than coal, and thorium contains 3.5 million times more energy than coal. The green transition is all about power/energy density, which Vaclav Smil notes has always been the historical trend in the past. The only difference this time, is that we must avoid emissions. By going nuclear there are no emissions since the process is fission and not combustion. Another upside to nuclear is availability of materials. An EU report from 2020 details the riskiness of today’s energy policy due to the limited availability of materials for both renewable energy and electric vehicles. Uranium, however, can be extracted directly from seawater in vast quantities at reasonable costs.

Finally, nuclear provides a cost advantage. In my own research, I have demonstrated that for an Aframax tanker operating between Singapore and the Persian Gulf, the nuclear option can in fact cut costs compared to HFO. Nuclear also has the capability of providing synthetic fuel at competitive levels. At the nuclear power plant Nine-Mile-Point in the USA, the target is to produce hydrogen at 1 USD/kg within 10 years, which is actually cheaper than hydrogen from most fossil energy sources today which operate at 0.7-1.6 USD/kg! Competing technologies are expected to reach 1,5 USD/kg at best.

Why it didn’t work before

The question about nuclear in the past and why it has not made it into commercial shipping by now, is a very valid question. Indeed, three nuclear-powered merchant vessels have been constructed decades ago, but they all succumbed to costs. The key difference now, however, is the reactor design.

All past nuclear-powered vessels, including military, have used a Light-Water Reactor (LWR) of some sort. These reactors use uranium as fuel and water as coolant. To provide maximum thermal efficiencies they are pressurized. Pressurization introduces an explosion risk (true for any pressurized system, not only nuclear), and to counter this risk numerous safety mechanisms are introduced. Hence, the reactors are completely safe, but the additional safety costs money. Also, water has low thermal density compared to other coolants now being suggested such as liquid lead and molten salt. This makes it harder to design small LWRs with as high output as those using alternative coolants. Therefore, the use of a LWR requires a certain size to be cost competitive. However, modularization and industrialization has improved this situation – also for other types of reactors.

Another perspective to keep in mind is that the new reactor designs are inherently safer than those in the past. This not only makes the very notion of having nuclear reactors on merchant ships doable, but it also saves costs as the complexity of the entire reactor system can be simplified. This was exemplified by the work performed at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in the 60s and 70s where the so called Molten-Salt Reactor (MSR) outperformed the LWR or the Pressurized Water Reactor (PWR) type by almost 20% (both being less costly than coal power without carbon tax).

Also keep in mind that we now have technologies that were unheard of 30 – 50 years ago. The digital technologies of today allow more accurate and careful design of the reactors themselves, but also facilitate entirely new ways of collaboration. In the past, a nuclear ship would have to be completely self-sustained in terms of crew and their competence. Obviously, recruiting enough nuclear trained personnel to operate a nuclear ship, is a major task. Today, however, remote operation technologies enable a control center on land to handle multiple ships if something comes up that is outside the scope of the crew competence. Furthermore, modern manufacturing enables more effective production of most components, further cutting costs.

Thus, it is fair to say that the early, nuclear movers in merchant shipping were basically too early. Today, however, the time is right.

Why nuclear will work today

With the climate crisis now upon us, I think nuclear will have to be part of the solution. Machiavelli once said that “necessity is the mother of invention”. The need is here, and the time is now.

The technology is now almost ready, and why wait to cut costs tomorrow when we can start today? Sure, some development remains, and some early movers are taking more risks than others. This is normal for all innovation regardless of industry. The most important is to realize that ramping up a new industry typically takes a generation. Therefore, perhaps it will take a couple of decades before the HFO will be displaced by the nuclear propulsion systems. All nuclear technology takes time to achieve approval and operating licenses, and construction capacity and upskilling will also take a long time. All the more reason to start now.

Clearly, solving the fuel challenge for shipping takes time, but it is not that far into the future. It can come faster if we make the right decisions early and have enough funding to sustain the work, but it can also be delayed – like all innovation work – if mistakes are made and funding dries up. One thing is sure, if we succeed the potential is vast both in cutting emissions and solving the energy security issues, but also economically.

Like the late Ray Anderson, Chairman of President Clinton’s Sustainability Council, said; “I want to do well by doing good”. Sure, subsidies are probably needed initially, but to secure an energy transition we need something that is objectively better than the old solution, and modern nuclear has this potential.”


Photo credit: Kinsey W on Unsplash
Published: 6 July, 2023

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TotalEnergies Marine Fuels renews ISCC EU certification for bio bunker fuel  

Firm’s operations teams in Singapore and Geneva successfully renewed its ISCC EU sustainability certification for the supply of biofuel bunkers, says Louise Tricoire, Vice President.





TotalEnergies Marine Fuels renews ISCC EU certification for bio bunker fuel

Louise Tricoire, Vice President of TotalEnergies Marine Fuels recently said the firm’s operations teams in Singapore and Geneva successfully renewed its International Sustainability and Carbon Certification (ISCC) EU sustainability certification for the supply of biofuel bunkers.

“This means that TotalEnergies Marine Fuels can continue sourcing and supplying marine biofuels in accordance with EU renewable energy regulations ensuring the highest sustainability standards,” she said in a social media. 

“It's the third year in a row that we have successfully renewed this certification, after a deep and comprehensive audit which showed zero non-conformity.”

She added marine biofuels have grown in demand among shipping companies that want to cut greenhouse gas emissions immediately. 

“TotalEnergies Marine Fuels offers marine biofuels commercially in Singapore and we are starting in Europe. This certification enables us to accompany our customers in their decarbonisation journey with the best standard solutions available today.”

Photo credit: TotalEnergies Marine Fuels
Published: 29 September, 2023

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Alternative Fuels

Seapath, Pilot LNG launch JV to develop dedicated LNG bunkering facility in US Gulf Coast

With operations beginning in early 2026, the construction of the new facility will provide bunker fuel for LNG-powered vessels in the greater Houston/ Galveston area of Texas.





Seapath, Pilot LNG launch JV to develop dedicated LNG bunkering facility in US Gulf Coast

Seapath, a maritime subsidiary of Libra Group, and Pilot LNG, LLC (Pilot), a leading Houston-based clean energy solutions company, on Thursday (28 September) announced that they have formed a joint venture (JV) to develop, construct, and operate the first liquefied natural gas (LNG) bunkering facility in the U.S. Gulf Coast.

With operations beginning in early 2026, the construction of the new facility will provide bunker fuel for LNG-powered vessels in the greater Houston/ Galveston area of Texas.

The project, which will be developed with an initial investment of approximately USD 150 million, meets the needs of a vital global and U.S. trade corridor. According to the Greater Houston Partnership, the Greater Houston waterways generated over USD 906 billion in economic value to the U.S. in 2022. 

In addition, a 2023 U.S. Department of Transportation report recognised the Greater Houston area as the top US port by tonnage.

While LNG bunkering infrastructure has been developing overseas, U.S. infrastructure supporting its uptake has developed slower. Pilot and Seapath’s LNG bunkering facility will use their combined expertise to serve essential U.S. Gulf Coast port complexes, including servicing major cruise lines and container vessel operators.

Led by LNG industry veterans with extensive experience on the terminal and marine side, Pilot LNG is committed to delivering LNG to new and existing U.S. markets, including fuel/bunkering terminals and related infrastructure. This is the first in a series of strategic investments by Seapath and Pilot to create a network of LNG facilities in areas of unmet need in the U.S.

“Seapath is dedicated to investing across the marine infrastructure space and will provide strong financial backing to Pilot’s LNG bunker projects,” said Jonathan Cook, CEO of Pilot. 

“We look forward to working closely with Seapath to support the gradual decarbonization of the marine industry. We look forward to delivering a U.S. Gulf Coast facility in a timely manner based on the extensive development work already completed to meet the significant needs for LNG fuel, which also supports ongoing decarbonization across the industry.”

A U.S. company led by Merchant Mariners and former service members, Seapath was formed recognizing the need for critical investments in the U.S. maritime economy. The company plans to continue investing in innovative projects within maritime connectivity, industrial technologies, port real estate, and Jones Act vessels.

“The infrastructure under development will provide LNG to a growing market seeking cleaner marine fuel, particularly as customers look for economical ways to comply with tightening emissions regulations, including regulations set by the IMO in 2020,” said Seapath CEO Greg Otto.  

“We are pleased to be working with a first-class team in Pilot LNG and with some of the leading ports in the United States to bring this critical LNG bunkering infrastructure to the Gulf Coast region where there is high demand for it. Thanks to our valuable partnership with Pilot, we look forward to developing more of these much-needed facilities in ports across the United States.”

Seapath is one of 30 operational entities of Libra Group, a privately owned business group whose subsidiaries own and operate assets in nearly 60 countries with six business sectors, including maritime and renewable energy. The Group’s three maritime subsidiaries include Lomar Shipping, a global shipping company with a fleet of more than 40 vessels, and Americraft Marine, which owns and operates a Jones Act Shipyard in Palatka, Florida. Significantly, the shipyard is among the few in the U.S. to construct crew transfer vessels to service the growing offshore-wind industry and traditional inland-marine assets such as tugboats and barges.

“Libra Group is committed to advancing innovation across our sectors, from maritime to aerospace, to renewable energy and more. As a global organization, we will harness insights from across our network to bolster the uptake of more sustainable technologies to advance our sectors while identifying potential applications across our other sectors,” said Manos Kouligkas, CEO of Libra Group.

“Adoption of more sustainable fuels is critical to future-proofing our industries against a rapidly changing ecosystem. We will continue to support the transition to greener energy solutions, and we look forward to following Seapath’s work to evolve the U.S. maritime industrial sector.”

Pilot and Seapath will continue with all front-end engineering and design development for their projects in the third and fourth quarters of 2023 to file applications with the necessary federal and state agencies to permit, site, construct and operate the small-scale LNG terminal for marine fuel. Pilot and Seapath anticipate announcing details of their project investment by the second half of 2024.

Photo credit: Libra Group
Published: 29 September, 2023

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Bureau Veritas on biofuels: The transitional bunker fuel of today? 

BV published an article stating that biofuels are a promising turnkey transitional fuel but outlined practical and technical issues that shipping companies should consider.





Bureau Veritas on biofuels: The transitional bunker fuel of today?

Classification society Bureau Veritas on Thursday (28 September) published an article stating that biofuels is a promising turnkey transitional bunker fuel but outlined practical and technical issues that shipping companies should consider: 

The race is on to transition to low-carbon alternative fuels and biofuels are gaining momentum. But what are they? Biofuels are gaseous or liquid fuels produced from biomass – organic matter of biological and non-fossil origin. Easily adaptable to existing vessels, biofuels are a promising turnkey transitional fuel. Let’s dive deeper to examine this promise.


Biofuels can be broadly categorized into three generations, some of which are ready for use in shipping, and others still maturing:

  • First generation, or conventional biofuels, are generated using agricultural crops, vegetable oil or food waste. These are the most commonly used biofuels worldwide.
  • Second generation, or advanced biofuels, are produced from- non-food biomass feedstocks like residual feedstocks from forestry or crops. They could have fewer negative environmental impacts relating to land use and food production.
  • Third generation biofuels are a future generation of biofuels currently needing further development, produced from algae and microbes.

Currently, first-generation biofuels are the most widely available. However, their scalability is constrained by the origin of their feedstock, which is food-purposed crops and thus entails direct and indirect land-use changes.

Second-generation biofuels, produced from non-food feedstocks such as forest biomass and agricultural crops, are free of some constraints associated with first-generation biofuels. Their role in decarbonizing shipping will likely be crucial. However, it will require a sharp uptake in supply, which inherently requires significant investments.


Yes, they absolutely do! The way a biofuel is produced and the feedstock used are key when analyzing a biofuel’s lifecycle GHG emissions. They therefore have an impact on determining whether they can be considered as low-carbon fuel. There is currently no globally accepted standard or certification in place to ensure the end-to-end sustainable production of biofuels. First generation biofuels, for example, are carbon neutral on paper. But, this claim becomes far more complex from a well-to-wake perspective and when considering more holistic sustainability criteria.

What other kind of ramifications might biofuel production entail? For one, the land needed for production is already in high demand to expand croplands around the world. This puts first-generation biofuel production and food markets in competition with each other – not an easy battle to win. From an ethical standpoint, most would prioritize meeting global food demand over fueling ships.


When it comes to biofuel use there are two broad categories of considerations for shipping companies: the practical and the technical.


Thus far, as with many fuels, it is difficult to predict the exact future prices of biofuels. Blending biofuels with fossil fuels can reduce the overall energy content which means more fuel is needed to maintain performance. Besides, maintenance may have to be adapted in cooperation with OEMs depending on which biofuels and blends are used. The latter can lead to additional OPEX costs that shipping companies will need to shoulder.

Another crucial factor is availability. At current production rates biofuels are unlikely to be able to meet a large proportion of global maritime demand. Competition with other sectors, such as land-based transportation, may compound concerns surrounding availability. This factor is not, however, specific to biofuels – availability remains a challenge for several other potential marine fuels.

The practical disadvantage of biofuels is a question of supply – particularly for the more ecological second- and third-generations. Theoretically, these later second generation biofuels could become a flexible and sustainable refueling option. Their required feedstocks are available worldwide, and port infrastructure should not require significant adaptations to accommodate them. Practically, however, they need to be produced at much greater scale.


One of the major advantages of biofuels is the maturity of compatible engines. Vessels typically require no modification to use biofuels, making them a “drop in” replacement for conventional marine fuels. This sets biofuels apart from the majority of alternative fuels – including hydrogen, ammonia and LNG – which require specific engines or fuel storage and supply systems.

Characteristically speaking, biofuels are similar to standard fuel oil. This means minimal investment would be needed to meet evolving regulations and ensure crew safety onboard.


The International Maritime Organization (IMO) is now developing guidelines for the life cycle GHG analysis of marine fuels, which is expected to be the cornerstone when considering the emissions reduction potential of marine biofuels.

Specific biofuel regulations may still be in the early stages, but ship operators are adapting their fleets now to comply with IMO emissions regulations. Biofuels may be part of the solution to reducing emissions and meeting compliance requirements. With a sustainable production pathway, biofuels promise significant carbon emissions reductions compared to standard fossil fuels.

Biofuels also appear to be in line with NOx (nitric oxide and nitrogen dioxide) emission limits. The challenge, however, comes in proving compliance. This may require onboard emission testing or engine and fuel-specific NOx emissions validation testing. However, the IMO regulations now consider blends of 30% biofuel or less in the same way as traditional oil-based bunkers.


To help the industry prepare for the use of biofuels or biofuel blends, Bureau Veritas created its BIOFUEL READY notation. It provides a set of requirements and comprehensive guidelines for the necessary documentation and testing. Suitable for new and existing ships, BIOFUEL READY is one example of how we leverage our transversal expertise to support the maritime industry’s decarbonization journey and safely progress innovative solutions. This includes assessing NOx emissions, which remain at the forefront of current regulatory compliance.

Photo credit: Bureau Veritas
Published: 29 September, 2023

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