Shipping giant Maersk, the world's largest consumer of marine fuels, has set out its views on the alternative bunkers landscape in comments at SIBCON.
"It's all about finding the carbon-neutral fuel that can be scaled at the right price, and that we can transition with fast enough," Jacob Sterling, head of technical innovation at Maersk, said in a panel at the industry event on Thursday.
"As it looks for us, we need to have the carbon-neutral technologies ready at the latest by the end of this decade.
"We're actually quite short on time."
Maersk consumed 11.092 million mt of bunker fuel last year, or around 3.7-5% of global demand.
A Farewell to Oil
Sterling started his comments with the conclusion that 'oil and gas are out' because they cannot take shipping down to zero emissions, while acknowledging that they may have some role as 'intermediate fuels' in the meantime.
He also rejected carbon capture as a possibility for shipping in the foreseeable future because of the storage issues associated with it.
It's going to come either from biomass or from renewable electricity, or a combination.
"When we look at the future fuels from the very high level it's going to come either from biomass or from renewable electricity, or a combination," he said.
The company is already running some fuels on used cooking oil-derived biodiesel. While this option would not be sustainable at the quantities the whole shipping industry would need, the use of other biomass turned into methanol or ethanol may be feasible, he said.
Ammonia or Methanol?
"On renewable energy, as we see it it's between ammonia and methanol," Sterling said.
We don't see that hydrogen is a viable solution now to use as a fuel.
"Hydrogen is of course extremely important because that is the first step, but for our ships and the distances we sail we don't see that hydrogen is a viable solution now to use as a fuel."
Methanol's advantage is that it is already being used in ships, against the disadvantage of it needing captured carbon to be truly carbon-neutral, he added.
Ammonia "is very promising, and just the idea that what would come out of the chimney of the ship would not contain any CO2 is very appealing," he said.
"But the toxicity and everything around the handling and storage and bunkering and whatnot of ammonia needs to be solved.
"We think it's doable, but it's not going to be easy."
New Markets to Learn
Finally, Sterling argued that getting into alternative fuels will require the shipping industry to start learning about markets which have traditionally been unfamiliar to it.
"Whatever way we put it, as the shipping industry we need to understand some markets that we don't understand today," he said.
When it comes to fuel we've been used to looking at the oil and gas market.
"When it comes to fuel we've been used to looking at the oil and gas market, and we have a whole department in Maersk just looking at that.
"Now we need to understand how the agriculture and forestry markets work, and the power markets."
Peter Beekhuis, head of trading for the East of Suez at Maersk Oil Trading, will be speaking at the IBIA Annual Convention 2020 in November.
The global convention, being held online this year for the first time, will cover three days from November 3.
To register for the convention, click here: https://www.eventora.com/en/Events/ibia-annual-convention-2020-going-global.