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Researchers receives USD 5.97 million grant to investigate ammonia fuel for marine decarbonisation

07 Jul 2022

A group of academic and industrial partners have been awarded a GBP 5.5 million (USD 5.97 million) grant by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) to accelerate understanding, technologies and policies relating to the use of ammonia as a sustainable fuel, according to gas analyser manufacturer Signal Group Ltd on Monday (4 July). 

The project began in June 2022 and will run for 5 years.

Entitled Decarbonised Clean Marine: Green Ammonia Thermal Propulsion (MariNH3), the project brings together academics from Nottingham, Birmingham, Brighton, Cardiff and STFC, as well as partners such as regulators, oil companies, engine manufacturers and other industrial organisations.

The lead investigator is Prof. Alasdair Cairns, who is Chair in Propulsion Systems in the Faculty of Engineering at the University of Nottingham, where the majority of the research is being undertaken.

Explaining the importance of this work, Prof. Cairns said: “As countries seek opportunities for decarbonisation, there is a great deal of interest in green ammonia as an energy vector and a fuel for commercial shipping. However, there are a number of considerations relating to the greenhouse gas emissions of international shipping. Roughly 80% of the emissions from the maritime sector are emitted by larger commercial vessels (i.e. Megawatt scale engines), where alternative solutions such as electric and fuel cell remain limited in energy density and/or cost. This challenge is compounded by the fact that the engines in these vessels typically remain in service for several decades.  

“Ammonia represents an attractive solution, but significant challenges remain around slow combustion and the emissions of NOx, and it is these challenges we wish to address through research in fast burning and ultra-low NOx combustion systems. 

“As a group, the MariNH3 consortium firmly believes that a mix of technologies will be required for the most effective decarbonisation of the marine sector because there is no ‘silver bullet’ fuel or technology to shortcut the path to Net Zero. 

“Ammonia is set to play a key role, but there is current concern with the approach being adopted by some marine engine manufacturers, which involves ammonia dual fuelling, which is where some of the fuel oil (marine diesel) is replaced with ammonia as a retrofit solution. Typically, up to 40% diesel is still used in these engines, which will have consequences for local pollution, and limit the scope for decarbonisation. 

Researchers receives USD 5.97 million grant to investigate ammonia fuel for marine decarbonisation

“The vision of the EPSRC MariNH3 programme is therefore to investigate full decarbonisation of marine transport emissions through multidisciplinary research focused on highly promising disruptive ammonia fuelled engine concepts, which have the potential to allow full decarbonisation, whilst minimising pollution and end-use energy demand. 

“Our goal is to develop the best technical solutions in parallel with appropriate acceptance criteria and policy, so that we can develop technologies and policies which are ‘right first time’ and appropriately scaled across the marine sector. 

“The MariNH3 framework is based around a ‘technology agnostic’ approach to life cycle analysis to ensure that ammonia end-use is implemented appropriately. We wish to achieve this while developing the next generation of propulsion researchers, capable of adopting a technological and systems engineering approach to help steer and maintain the strong powertrain research community that we have in the UK.”

MariNH3 research

The project’s practical research is being conducted at the University of Nottingham’s Powertrain Research Centre in the Faculty of Engineering. This facility includes a broad range of resources for engine research, but the most relevant for this project are a new Volvo marine specification compression ignition (diesel) engine, a jet ignition engine and a comprehensive suite of Signal Group exhaust gas analysers.

Liquid ammonia is stored in a tank at the research centre and Research Fellow Dr Abdelrahman Hegab and Research Technician Nigel Sykes have installed a fuel supply line to the Volvo engine which draws vaporised ammonia from the tank. However, the combustion characteristics of ammonia differ greatly from conventional fuels, so the researchers are looking at ways to refine the technology whilst maximising the efficiency with which energy is utilised and minimising potentially harmful emissions. 

Dr Hegab explains: “The burning velocity of ammonia is relatively low, so there is potential for unburned ammonia to pass through to the engine exhaust. For this reason, Signal Group has supplied us with their new S4 NEBULA, a continuous ammonia analyser which employs tunable diode laser spectrometry (TDLS). This analyser is deployed in conjunction with a comprehensive suite of Signal’s reference method analysers to ensure that we are able to gain a full understanding of engine emissions under differing research conditions.”

Researchers receives USD 5.97 million grant to investigate ammonia fuel for marine decarbonisation


Photo credit: Signal Group
Published: 7 July, 2022

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