Green shipping: a not-so-distant future?

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As green hydrogen stocks explode in 2020, it’s no secret that this zero-carbon phenomenon is experiencing unprecedented global political and economic momentum. As a testament to its new global interest, universal hydrogen demand has tripled since 1975, with many countries now joining the bandwagon, aiming for net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

In the most insightful way possible, English science author Brian Clegg attempts to unravel the misconception surrounding “the king of the elements,” H, more commonly known as hydrogen. He argues that in science simplicity and beauty are often equated – and this makes hydrogen as beautiful as it comes; a single proton and a single electron making the most compact element in existence.[1]

Types of hydrogen

Compared to conventional fossil fuels which produce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions when consumed, hydrogen not only has the capacity to carry around three times as much energy by mass, but simply produces water. when consumed. The main problem, however, is that despite its potential to someday replace all fossil fuels, as it stands, the cost of producing hydrogen is significantly higher than any other fuel currently available on the planet. Marlet. This cost differs depending on the mode of hydrogen production chosen. ‘Gray hydrogen’, i.e. hydrogen produced from fossil fuels such as natural gas, is the most common form of hydrogen with even lower life cycle emissions than gasoline. fossil fuels. When gray hydrogen is combined with carbon capture and storage technologies, it forms what is known as “blue hydrogen”, a type of hydrogen with much less life cycle carbon emissions. , but which is much more expensive. On the other hand, the cleanest form of hydrogen is what is called “green hydrogen” which is produced by a process called electrolysis whereby it is created directly from water when electric currents divide the water molecule into oxygen and hydrogen. When the source of these electric currents comes from a renewable source such as solar, wind and biomass energy, among others, the entire process would be completely emission-free. Unfortunately, the downside to this phenomenon known as “green hydrogen” is that it is the most expensive of the three.

The shipping industry

Without a doubt, emitting over 950 million tonnes of CO2 per year, as well as contributing 2.5% of all global greenhouse gas emissions, does not exactly represent the shipping industry under the greatest lights and therefore, The International Maritime Organization (IMO) recently stepped up efforts to ensure that the world’s busiest transport sector reduce emissions by at least 50% by 2050. While liquid natural gas is seen as a potential alternative to conventional heavy fuel oil and marine diesel, at best it only allows a 10% reduction in GHG emissions compared to the aforementioned conventional fossil fuels.[2] A number of recently published studies[3] and strategies[4] recently revealed how hydrogen could potentially be a game-changer for the shipping industry.

However, a number of critics called the IMO “too bureaucratic” and “lack of urgency” to clean up shipments.[5] Therefore, it’s no surprise that countries have started pushing their own agendas – drafting white papers as well as engaging in consultations, with the aim of seizing the seat of universal hydrogen.

Canada, for example, is clearly at the forefront of the hydrogen game by establishing an ambitious framework that aims to cement hydrogen as being responsible for more than 25% of its energy demand by 2050. Policies in favor of clean energy, financial incentives, political pressure and the penalization of fossil fuels are all incentives that Canada is endeavoring to introduce, in particular through its next Hydrogen Strategy[6]. This hydrogen strategy embodies the BC government’s plan to achieve net zero emissions, and one of the ways to achieve this is to have hydrogen contribute up to 31% of this hydrogen strategy. objective.[7] Hydrogen has the potential to decarbonize the transportation sector through its application in fuel cell vehicles that use gaseous hydrogen to power electric motors without generating emissions. Additionally, as most of the emissions come from larger vehicles such as ships, airplanes, commercial trucks, and buses among others, all of which have the potential to be powered by said fuel cell energy, Colombia -British passed the Zero-Emissions Vehicles Act, putting pressure on automakers to ensure that 100% of their sales are zero-emission vehicles until 2040.

The UK, through Minister of State for Business, Energy and Clean Growth Anne-Marie Trevelyan, also recently followed through on its 10-point plan for a green industrial revolution with a infusion of £ 166.5million to accelerate game delivery -change the technologies needed to advance Britain’s climate change ambitions by investing in carbon capture, gas elimination greenhouse and hydrogen. Such an investment will help the UK meet its goal of phasing out 10 megatonnes of carbon dioxide, generating 5 GW of hydrogen by 2030 and creating 250,000 green jobs.[8]

Cyprus is another jurisdiction which has announced a number of green incentive programs in recent months. An annual tonnage tax reduction of 30% has been offered to all vessels using approved alternative fuels such as methanol, electricity, hydrogen and biofuels, clearly demonstrating the clear position taken by a major registry of ships to reward and support sustainable boating practices. . This tax reduction will be available for ships that demonstrate a 30% decrease in carbon dioxide emissions, with a 15% discount also available for ships that demonstrate a 20% decrease. It is interesting to note that ships operating on liquefied natural gas have been expressly excluded from the benefit of this incentive, but may benefit from a separate incentive. Other tax concessions have also been implemented, such as rebates for ships with lower energy efficiency design ratings than requirements.[9]

Unquestionably, some jurisdictions like Japan, South Korea, California and Europe have certain competitive advantages in the global hydrogen race, not only because of the abundance of all major hydrogen feedstocks such as water, natural gas and biomass, but also because of their leading position in intellectual property, dominant energy sector, established pipeline and transport infrastructure, well-positioned export channels and proximity to markets for import of hydrogen.

Malta’s renewable energy sources

Although Malta’s only predominantly viable renewable energy source is solar power, it can nonetheless take advantage of its strategic position in the Mediterranean Sea by potentially becoming an at-sea refueling station for passing maritime traffic.[10] After starting the year by losing around € 400 million in EU funding for its Malta-Sicily gas pipeline project, the Maltese government has now stepped up efforts to develop a hydrogen-ready gas pipeline that would be connected to the European hydrogen supply network. via Gela, Sicily.

Without a shadow of a doubt, given that the Maltese maritime industry has continued to evolve over the years and that Maltese-flagged vessels rank sixth in the world for their contribution to 5% of all CO2 emissions from the maritime industry each year[11], it is high time to tackle the problem at its root. Indeed, the time has come as the industry is now starting to assess alternative possibilities for investing in cleaner fuel, while properly preserving air quality..

Naturally, despite the best efforts in the industry, one must consider that the production of fuel cells and hydrogen is still in its infancy due to the low adoption rates, lack of widespread hydrogen refueling infrastructure. and its biggest deterrent – high costs. Therefore, many continue to believe that liquid fossil fuels still appear to be present for the foreseeable future.

A slow transition

As with any other major change, the key is to transition and evolve slowly rather than blindly jumping into a “revolutionary” abyss. The CMA CGM Group is a perfect example of this with the launch in 2020 of its first mega-container ship, the CMA CGM Jacques Saade, powered by LNG. At first glance, this results in a 99% reduction in sulfur dioxide emissions and an 85% reduction in nitrogen oxide emissions, two aspects that reflect various health problems. Widely recognized as the best intermediate solution by major industry players, LNG attempts to bridge the gap between the horrific emission percentages and the incredibly high costs of the Green Revolution. Malta Freeport Terminals Director General Alex Montebello believes that despite the rather ambitious IMO targets set for 2050, the CMA CGM Jacques Saade “is a window to the future”.[12]

Finally, there remains a relevant question that constantly seems to go unnoticed: what realistic green incentives can Malta implement given its limited resources but its still successful maritime history? While tax incentives, multi-million euro green investments and forward-thinking policies are a necessary first step, Malta should look beyond these and channel the wisdom of our ancestors to leverage the strategic position of Malta by venturing into the possibility of becoming a hydrogen hub for the Mediterranean. The hydrogen-ready pipeline will bring huge untapped potential for the Maltese maritime industry, and although many believe it will take decades yet, Malta should use this time wisely and start preparing for its own ecological evolution. of shipping, an evolution that we already lag so far behind.


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