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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.




Kinsey W 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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SMW 2024: Maritime industry on track to adopt mid-term decarbonisation measures, says IMO chief

Safety, inclusion and transparency will be key areas for Mr Arsenio Dominguez’s tenure as Secretary-General of the International Maritime Organization.





SMW 2024: Maritime industry on track to adopt mid-term decarbonisation measures, says IMO chief

The article ‘Maritime industry on track to adopt mid-term decarbonisation measures: IMO chief’ was first published on Issue 1 of the Singapore Maritime Week 2024 Show Dallies; it has been reproduced in its entirety on Singapore bunkering publication Manifold Times with permission from The Nutgraf and the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore:

Toh Wen Li
[email protected]

The maritime industry is “on track” to roll out decarbonisation measures by 2025 as set out by the International Maritime Organization, said its new chief Arsenio Dominguez.

“We are on track to adopt mid-term measures by late 2025 to cut greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, to reach net zero targets,” said Mr Dominguez, who took over as IMO Secretary-General in January.

In 2023, the IMO released a revised GHG strategy to reach net-zero emissions from shipping by or around 2050 – far more ambitious than its 2018 initial GHG strategy, which aimed only to cut emissions by at least 50 per cent compared to 2008.

“These will help us progress towards achieving netzero GHG emissions by or around 2050, with indicative checkpoints to reach by 2030 (cut GHG emissions by at least 20 per cent, striving for 30 per cent), and 2040 (cut GHG emissions by at least 70 per cent, striving for 80 per cent).”

Mr Dominguez, who will be speaking on the opening day of the 18th edition of SMW, also emphasised the need to keep seafarers safe against the backdrop of heightened geopolitical tensions. He said the attacks on ships in the Red Sea have far-reaching economic implications.

“Prolonged disruptions in container shipping could lead to delayed deliveries, high costs, and inflation. Energy security and food security could potentially be affected due to increased prices,” he said.

“These attacks pose serious threats to global maritime security, as well as the security and maritime trade for the coastal states in the region,” he said, calling out the Red Sea attacks as “categorically unacceptable”. But he remains confident that the industry will continue to stay resilient. “I trust that shipping organisations and Member States alike will come together in the relevant IMO fora to seek collaboration and look for solutions together.”

Mr Dominguez also pledged to create a more inclusive IMO, one that is more gender-balanced in an industry that has long been dominated by men.

“I have appointed a gender balanced senior management team and initiated a policy of refraining from participating in panels or events unless gender representation is respected. I encourage the maritime community to follow this example,” he said.

He added that the IMO will also strive to fulfil its mandate as the world’s regulator for international shipping; support IMO’s 176 Member States, particularly Small Island Developing States and Least Developed Countries; raise public awareness of IMO’s impact; and adopt a “people-centred approach”.

“My vision is for IMO to flourish as a transparent, inclusive, and diverse institution,” he said. 

Singapore can ‘shine a light on the way forward’

Key maritime hubs like Singapore can play a key role as the industry pushes ahead in its quest to decarbonise, said International Maritime Organization’s (IMO) Secretary-General, Mr Arsenio Dominguez.

“Singapore is (in) a great position to participate in trials and pilots to show what works, including routebased actions – and share results of any trials back to IMO,” he said.

The green transition poses a slew of fresh considerations for the maritime sector. A major bunkering hub such as Singapore will need to look at making changes to infrastructure to deliver new fuels.

Other considerations for the industry include safety, pricing, lifecycle emissions, supply chain constraints, barriers to adoption and more, added Mr Dominguez. Seafarers, too, will need to be trained in how to operate new technology safely.

“We need ‘early movers’ in the industry as well as forward-looking policy makers to take the necessary risks and secure the right investments that will stimulate long-term solutions for the sector,” he said.

Singapore Maritime Week is a chance for key stakeholders to “have the conversations and discussions that can formulate ideas and bring new solutions”, Mr Dominguez said.

Now, more than ever, collaboration will be crucial. “The experience of critical maritime hubs like Singapore can help shine a light on the way forward for many issues. Here the IMO can play a role in providing opportunities for Singapore and other maritime hubs to share their expertise with all Member States. Shipping is global – no single country can go it alone.” 

Singapore Maritime Week 2024 was organised by Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore from 15 to 19 April. 


Photo credit: International Maritime Organization
Article credit: The Nutgraf/ Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore
Published: 23 April, 2024

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IBIA and BIMCO to collaborate on bunker fuel and maritime challenges

Both will collaborate in areas including research initiatives, studies, and projects relevant to bunker or marine energy industry and maritime sector as well as training and education.





IBIA and BIMCO to collaborate on bunker fuel and maritime challenges

The International Bunker Industry Association (IBIA) and BIMCO on Monday (22 April) said they have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to collaborate on some of the monumental challenges and opportunities within the areas of bunker, marine energy and maritime sectors and help facilitate shipping’s decarbonisation efforts.

The parties have agreed to leverage their respective expertise and resources to develop innovative solutions and initiatives to facilitate the transition towards cleaner fuels and efficient and sustainable shipping practices. The partnership MOU will focus on addressing the following key areas:

Research and Development: Collaborate on research initiatives, studies, and projects relevant to the bunker/marine energy industry and maritime sector.

Information Sharing: Share relevant information, publications, and data that may be beneficial to the members of both organisations.

Training and Education: Explore opportunities for joint training programs, seminars, and educational initiatives to enhance the knowledge and skills of professionals in the maritime and bunker/marine energy industry.

Influence: Work together on efforts to address common issues and challenges faced by the industry.

Alexander Prokopakis, Executive Director of IBIA, said: “This partnership between IBIA and BIMCO marks an important step towards addressing the pressing challenge of decarbonisation in the shipping industry. The collaboration underscores the industry’s collective commitment to navigating towards a greener future for maritime operations.”

David Loosley, BIMCO Secretary General & CEO, said: “As we work towards the checkpoints and targets of the updated GHG strategy of the IMO, working across all sectors that influence and support decarbonisation of shipping will be key. Our ships will be relying on many different fuel solutions in the process and working toward the safety and availability of those is crucial.” 

IBIA and BIMCO are committed to driving progress towards a more sustainable and environmentally responsible future for the global shipping industry.


Photo credit: IBIA and BIMCO
Published: 23 April 2024

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Peninsula and NYK collaborate on B30 biofuel bunkering op in Zeebrugge

Peninsula barge “New York” delivered 1,200 mt of B30 bio bunker fuel to “Garnet Leader”, a NYK vehicle carrier on 24 March in Zeebrugge, Belgium.





Peninsula and NYK collaborate on B30 biofuel bunkering op in Zeebrugge

Marine fuel supplier Peninsula on Monday (22 April) announced the successful conclusion of the first B30 biofuel supply deal in Zeebrugge, Belgium, in collaboration with the Japanese shipping company, Nippon Yusen Kabushiki Kaisha (NYK). 

The deal, which marks a significant milestone in sustainable fuel distribution, saw the delivery of 1,200 metric tonnes (mt) of B30. 

The delivery, executed on 24 March involved the vessel Garnet Leader, a NYK vehicle carrier. 

Peninsula's barge New York, played the role of ensuring the transportation and delivery of the biofuel to its destination in Zeebrugge.

Kaori Takahashi, General Manager of NYK’s Fuel Group, said: “NYK is proud to collaborate with Peninsula in this pioneering supply of B30 biofuel, which underscores our dedication to environmental sustainability and innovation in the maritime sector.”

“By leveraging sustainable biofuels like B30, we are taking meaningful strides towards reducing greenhouse gas emissions.”

“NYK remains dedicated to driving positive change within the industry while meeting the evolving demands of our customers and stakeholders.”

B30 biofuel, a blend comprising 30% ISCC EU certified sustainable UCOME, which is biofuel derived from Used Cooking Oil, offers a promising avenue reducing GHG emissions by 84%, thus mitigating the environmental impact of maritime operations. 

By using biofuel technology, Peninsula continues to pave the way for a greener future while simultaneously meeting the evolving needs of the shipping industry.

Peninsula's Head of Biofuels Desk, Nikolas Nikolaidis, said: "As the maritime industry, along with prominent players like NYK, intensifies their adoption of Sustainable Marine Fuels (SMF), the accessibility of such solutions grows in significance.”

“Peninsula is committed to collaborating closely with our established clients and partners to deliver SMF solutions where demand is highest.”

“Peninsula is broadening its biofuel supply network, positioning itself as the leading physical marine fuel supplier to offer comprehensive biofuel solutions across multiple regions and ports for our customers."


Photo credit: Peninsula and NYK
Published: 23 April 2024

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