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SEA-LNG publishes response to World Bank’s ‘mistaken’ position on LNG as marine fuel

23 Apr 2021

Global multi-sector industry coalition SEA-LNG on Tuesday (20 April) published its response to recent reports by the World Bank that makes recommendations for future zero low carbon fuels while discouraging the uptake of liquified natural gas (LNG) as a bunker fuel:

Industry coalition stresses that LNG fuels reduce up to 23% of GHG emissions, and that bio- and synthetic LNG offer low risk, incremental pathways to net zero. 

Waiting for future fuels and not fully utilising LNG, which is safe, proven, competitive and available today, is a mistake.  We need to take advantage today of the confirmed reduction in GHG of up to 23% (Well-to-Wake) and the obvious air quality benefits of LNG as a maritime fuel. To continue to wait for unproven alternatives only makes the current GHG and local emissions problems worse.

The World Bank’s recent report, ‘The Role of LNG in the Transition Toward Low- and Zero-Carbon Shipping’ attempts to prescribe solutions and predict the timing of future technology development. SEA-LNG believes strongly that the transition to future fuels must not follow this prescriptive approach. It is far too early to decide what the real potential of various alternative fuels will be for a highly complex, hard-to-abate, global industry.

Theoretical arguments are an important starting position, however, the 50+ years of proven, safe operational experience that the industry has with LNG speaks for itself. Further, bio- and synthetic LNG offer an incremental pathway for the decarbonisation of the global shipping industry — one that is already being implemented by a growing number of shipowners. The existing LNG infrastructure is being used today, and is interchangeable with its bio- and synthetic alternatives, thereby providing a low risk, long-term decarbonisation alternative.

By focusing on theoretical, unproven solutions, the World Bank stifles innovation in technologies that can also provide answers in the decades ahead. We strongly encourage all institutions around the globe that have a place in the policy debate to set standards and targets that drive real and immediate reductions in GHG emissions, and not prescribe specific technology solutions that are untried and unproven in the real world.

To suggest that investments not be made in the LNG sector is unwise, and will prolong the use of higher emissions fuels and slow down shipping’s decarbonisation.

Technologies are constantly evolving, and it is essential to use up-to-date data when evaluating different propulsion alternatives for the maritime sector. Based on the primary data and methodology of SEA-LNG’s latest research, we are unequivocally confident that Sphera’s ‘2nd Lifecycle GHG Emission Study on the use of LNG as a Marine Fuel’ is the definitive study on the essential role that LNG has to play in shipping’s pathway to decarbonisation. The findings are based on the latest primary data, assessing all major types of marine engines and global sources of supply, follows ISO standards, and is independently peer reviewed by neutral academics. This is in contrast to some of the studies that the World Bank cites which are based on out-of-date technologies used in niche maritime operations.

The SEA-LNG study, published last week, shows that LNG as a marine fuel provides GHG benefits of up to 23% on a Well-to-Wake (WtW) basis and up to 30% on a Tank-to-Wake (TtW) basis compared with current oil-based marine fuels.

While methane slip is an issue that needs to be addressed, its effect must be quantified using up to date and accurate information. Using current engine information, as the SEA-LNG study does, shows that methane slip does not impact LNG’s GHG reduction potential to the extent that the World Bank report claims. LNG engine solutions are already in use today with minimal methane slip. Manufacturers are on a pathway to continue to reduce methane slip even further through measures which include design changes, and the implementation of advanced combustion algorithms. LNG-fuelled vessels being built today have much lower levels of methane slip than what is often cited in academic studies, including the IMO 4th GHG study. As Peter Keller, Chairman of SEA-LNG recently noted, “often based on outdated data, methane slip has become an overused argument for those wishing to justify inaction.”

The World Bank report also fails to acknowledge the very rapid acceleration in the availability of Bio-LNG.  The European Biogas Association expects a ten-fold increase in Europe by 2030 and according to a study by the International Energy Agency (IEA), every part of the world has significant scope to produce biogas and/or biomethane, the gaseous form of bio-LNG. The 2020 Bio and synthetic fuels study by CE Delft highlights that large-scale bio-LNG supplies produced from sustainable biomass resources could be available in the 2030s, presenting the maritime sector with a safe and scalable alternative fuel. Significant volumes of bio-LNG can be derived from human and livestock waste streams, the positive health implications of which the World Bank does not appear to acknowledge.

While highlighting green ammonia and hydrogen as the only viable future fuels, the World Bank report fails to mention the major challenges associated with these fuels. Considerable research and development, as well as extensive operational testing is still needed. Major technological and regulatory hurdles must be overcome before ammonia and hydrogen can safely be used as fuels in the marine environment, and investment cases will be hindered by the low energy density of these fuels. The massive investments that will be required in new infrastructure will have to be co-ordinated with ship-owners and other stakeholders. The World Bank’s untested theoretical approach risks delaying the shipping industry’s decarbonisation and at worst it can lead the industry down a technology cul-de-sac.

The global health benefits resulting from the use of LNG as a marine fuel are well known and accepted. LNG-fuelled vessels emit virtually no SOx while dramatically limiting emissions of NOx. It also virtually eliminates particulate matter, including black carbon or soot, which while not yet regulated, is an environmental concern. We should not miss this opportunity, especially in developing economies where air pollution is a significant and growing problem. 

By investing in LNG dual-fuelled vessels, the shipping industry begins the decarbonisation process now. This creates a direct pathway to significantly lower carbon emissions and facilitates the introduction of zero-carbon alternative fuels as and when they become commercially and operationally viable.

SEA-LNG encourages informed debate of future fuels. It is important however, to base this debate on objective, up-to-date Life Cycle Analysis and recognise that we need to start with proven technologies not future concepts that are currently no more than wishful thinking.

Related: SMTC 2021: Political will and time the missing components from shipping’s transition away from fossil fuels
Related: World Bank report discusses decarbonisation; names ‘most promising’ future bunker fuels
Related: SEA-LNG: Independent study confirms LNG reduces shipping GHG emissions by 23%


Photo credit: SEA-LNG
Published: 23 April, 2021

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