Carbon Capture: The Overlooked Solution to Meet IMO GHG Goals?

by Ship & Bunker News Team
Monday December 2, 2019

Last week a group of major industry stakeholders including NYK, Sovcomflot, and Ardmore announced they had launched the DecarbonICE project to assess the viability of marine carbon capture solutions to reduce emissions. The move marks another major milestone for a technology that, based on Ship & Bunker's review of market participants, only last year was virtually unheard of as being a serious route to meet IMO's GHG goals.

"We have yet to see evidence that this a viable technical solution, although we are ready to change course should the contrary be demonstrated," Simon Bennett, Deputy Secretary General, ICS, told Ship & Bunker last year when commenting on the emergence of direct air carbon (DAC) capture as a solution to meet maritime GHG targets.

Headed by Denmark's Maritime Development Center (MDC), the DecarbonICE is concerned with onboard use of carbon capture technology.

Compared to shore-based DAC, the cost of capturing each tonne of carbon using onboard technology is much lower as it has access to the direct emissions source rather than having to work with ambient concentration levels of CO2.

However, operational complexity would be higher for onboard solutions as units would be required on each vessel and need to work reliably in harsh maritime conditions. If our experience of industry opinion with SOx scrubbers is any indication, shipowners my be reluctant to follow such a path in significant numbers.

Both methods of carbon capture have also yet to gain political acceptance, with environmental groups arguing that investment in such technology would simply prolong the use use of fossil fuels while doing nothing to address the environmental impacts of the extraction and production of those fuels.

In addition, the type of onboard carbon capture envisaged by the DecarbonICE project returns captured carbon into seafloor sediments. Rightly or wrongly, the practice of redirecting air-destined emissions to the ocean in relation to SOx scrubbers faces ongoing objections.

Still, industry has now clearly signalled it sees millage in the idea of capturing the carbon emissions of fossil fuels to meet IMO GHG targets, and MDC's project is the latest major backing for the idea in recent months following the announcement in September of a group of 13 major oil and gas firms who have come together under The Oil and Gas Climate Initiative (OGCI) to invest in carbon capture.

Earlier this year, Steve Oldham, CEO at DAC carbon capture firm Carbon Engineering, said the industry needs to know the technology is now a feasible and affordable part of the GHG solution.

While it is easy to understand why oil majors would want to back the technology, a look at the economics shows it is could also be highly attractive for shipowners.

Oldham says the cost of their more expensive DAC carbon capture solutions are already at a level where the premium for carbon-neutral bunkers would be just $300/mt, or a little over 50% for current VLSFO prices. In contrast, net-carbon neutral biofuels currently attract a premium of 200-300%.

"The maritime industry seems to be overlooking that on-board carbon capture with subsequent storage at appropriate sites may also qualify as a carbon free solution," says Odin Kwon, CTO of DecarbonICE project member DSME.