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Joint study examines ecological impact of ammonia bunker fuel spills during bunkering and collisions

22 Nov 2022

A joint study released by Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), Lloyd’s Register (LR) and Ricardo PLC, examines the potential marine environmental impacts of ammonia spills during its use as a shipping fuel, according to LR on Monday (21 November). 

The study, which used extensive modelling due to the scarcity of real-world data, focuses specifically on the impacts of large ammonia bunker fuel spill scenarios on marine habitats.

Potential effects on aquatic environments and associated ecological receptors were assessed in scenarios if a spill were to occur during bunkering, or in the case of a ship’s collision and sinking. In addition, possible mitigation measures and specific spill management practices for these scenarios were modelled and studied.

“The shipping industry must make a rapid energy transition to address the climate emergency. But it is also clear that we must proceed with caution. We owe it to future generations to ensure we are championing true climate solutions that will not negatively impact our rivers, our oceans or our health,” said Marie Hubatova, Director of Global Shipping for EDF’s Global Transport team.

The study examined potential ammonia fuel spills during bunkering and collision scenarios, under a variety of conditions, including time of day, temperature, humidity and solar radiation. The outputs were tested across eight habitats (rivers, estuaries, wetlands, coastal waters, coral reefs, mangroves, polar regions and the deep sea) using multiple ecological receptors (bacteria, plankton, macrophytes, invertebrates, fish, birds, reptiles, and marine mammals).

The study found that estuaries, mangroves and wetlands are particularly sensitive to potential ammonia fuel spills compared to the polar regions and the deep sea. Within these habitats, it is typically fish which are most sensitive to an ammonia spill, with birds and mammals to a lesser degree.

Lauren Dawson, Senior Consultant, Water and Environment Practice, Ricardo, said: “Examining the impact of ammonia is a challenge because of the vast conditions a ship might face while at sea or even when bunkered. Critical factors to consider include the various ship and storage types, the underlying principles which determine the fate of ammonia in the environment, and the diversity of aquatic habitats and species that could be affected.”

“Ultimately, what we found is that ammonia is more threatening to fish species, and particularly to ecosystems with less saline water and higher temperatures. It is therefore important to study the impact of ammonia carefully for particular regions where these habitats intersect with major shipping channels and ports, such as the Strait of Malacca. The findings of the report provide an excellent step forward to delivering a baseline upon which future assessments can be refined.”

The results were then compared to previously studied habitat and species sensitivity to conventional oil-based fuels. Overall, an ammonia spill has a relatively smaller dispersion distance and lower persistence within the environment when compared to heavy fuel oil (HFO) and marine gas oil (MGO).

Existing reports show that oil-based fuels have higher impacts on invertebrates and birds, compared with ammonia. Ammonia has a medium impact on all other ecological receptors, except bacteria, whereas oil-based fuels have medium impacts on plankton, fish, macrophytes, reptiles and marine mammals (see the Table summarising the environmental impact level in page 5 of our summary report).

While the maritime industry has prior experience with ammonia transported in gas carriers and used as refrigerant, the introduction of ammonia as a shipping fuel creates new challenges related to safe bunkering, storage, supply and consumption for different ship types. The potential toxicity of ammonia cannot be ignored; without mitigation measures and solid spill management practices, an ammonia fuel spill could have negative impacts on aquatic environments. Therefore, a robust regulatory framework must be developed for ammonia to be a viable, low carbon alternative for shipping.

“There are many questions around the use of ammonia as a shipping fuel. Studies like this support the industry’s understanding of the environmental impacts as well as the operational and safety challenges. Greater clarity about the risks posed to marine ecosystems will allow industry stakeholders to make better informed decisions on the multiple transition pathways under consideration,” said Andy Franks, Senior Risk Specialist, LR Maritime Decarbonisation Hub.

Note: The full article can be found here while the full report Ammonia at sea: studying the potential impact of ammonia as a shipping fuel on marine ecosystems can be downloaded here

 

Photo credit: Lloyd’s Register
Published: 22 November, 2022

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