Does Ammonia Have What It Takes to Go Mainstream?

by Julian Macqueen, Senior Editor, Ship & Bunker
Tuesday May 14, 2024

"Ammonia is highly toxic and we need to respect that."

When those words are spoken by the company that is making the engines that will use the new marine fuel, it's best to take notice. 

But MAN Energy Solutions' Bjarne Foldager, the firm's country manager for Denmark, is not against the fuel. Far from it, he is very much in favour of ammonia. 

"It has the potential to become a big shipping fuel in the future," he told Ship & Bunker in an online interview.

The company is in the process of developing engine units to run on the alternative bunker fuel. Having completed hundreds of hours in tests at Copenhagen, Foldager said that the next step is to put in the engines into ships where the engines and the ships can start to accrue valuable sea experience.

"We have a number of pilot schemes in play.  The first engine is going to a shipyard towards the end of the year."

But before that can happen, what those participating in ammonia's journey from the fringe of the marine fuel space to the centre want to see above all is information and clarity.  Where that is lacking, uncertainty looms.

And with uncertainty comes what no-one wants, namely increased costs and delay.

"I don't see a problem with the specifications of the fuel," Foldager said. But with the formulation of safety standards of how to handle the fuel, he can.

There are safety guidelines for its safe operation as bunker fuel produced by class societies.  "A lot of great work has been done in this area in which we have been involved." 

The trouble is that the differences in some of the values in these guidelines are too wide to be workable.

Ammonia is toxic. This fact makes ventilation systems of prime importance. According to Foldager, there are 14 locations on a ship where ventilation from a safety perspective is key. But the values per ppm allocated to ammonia range from 25ppm to 300ppm.

"Ideally, we would prefer one fixed point. That is much better to work with."

The location of sensors to monitor toxicity levels in the air is another area that is vital to get right.

"Some of these spaces are quite big so locating the sensor could be an issue."

MAN Energy Solutions has taken its concerns to the International Association of Classification Societies.

The safety aspects to handling the new fuels are paramount as an accident early in its development could set the fuel back not least in terms of public perception.

Foldager said that he and his team have learnt to respect ammonia given its toxicity. And he believes it can be part of the new fuels landscape.

As the pilot schemes that MAN Energy Solutions is part of move up a gear, designers want to know more.  "That information, and how clear it is, is the safest way to turn ammonia into a mainstream fuel." 

That ammonia will be one of a number of new marine fuels to be embraced by the shipping industry is not in doubt. And as a corollary, he wants to see that same level of certainty applied to its operation.