The role of gas in the decarbonization of maritime transport

By Bernard Vanheule, EU Affairs Director, Costa Group


Becoming carbon neutral by 2050 is a necessity for human mankind.

The EU pathway to decarbonize our economy by 2050 brings us also to a more near-term deadline: 2030.

The EU leadership in decarbonizing is translating this near-term objective by a legislative package call “Fit for 55”, in other words the objective to reduce our GHG emissions in Europe by 55% by 2030.

If becoming carbon neutral is a necessity for human mankind it also means that all sectors need to do everything they can to reach this 2030 objective. Including shipping.

But what is the potential “role of gas in the decarbonization of the maritime transport”?

Let me address this maritime dimension firstly, and the issue of fuels and energy secondly.

 First and on the maritime dimension, it is worth reminding the role Costa Group is playing. We are a key European cruise operator (our 24 vessels fly all a European flag – Italian -; they are all built in European shipyards; and Europe is a key destination) with ambitious projects towards decarbonization.

Decarbonization efforts are not new at Costa Group: our first ship fully operated with LNG (Liquified Natural Gas) was ordered back in 2015, i.e. seven years ago. Since then we worked with authorities to pave the way to the introduction of LNG for the cruise industry playing a key role and supporting all the involved stakeholders to create the conditions to make this happen.

Additional initiatives were undertaken to deploy our capacity to increasingly contribute to the decarbonization objective: investments in plug-in devices for shore power; in batteries development; in fuel cell development. We even have a concept ready for the first zero-emission cruise ship to be delivered in a decade.

As a maritime leader in decarbonization efforts we have ambitious objectives. And for turning ambitious objectives into realities, both industry and regulators have to take the actual realities of this world into account as not all modes of transport have the same features and what fits for one mode of transport may not fit for another. This was actually well reflected in the “Fit for 55” impact assessment.

The impact assessment highlights that shipping is one of the most challenging sectors to decarbonize. And changes in ship design will not be sufficient to reduce GHG emissions to the magnitude needed. In fact, one can say that more than 2/3 of the GHG emissions reduction in shipping will directly depend on the availability of alternative fuels on the bunkering market.

On top of that, and as still highlighted by the “Fit for 55” package’s impact assessment, not all alternative powers fit all modes of transport. Batteries systems available today can perfectly support the automotive industry but are not able to provided the needed energy for the propulsion of a cruise ship

The availability of alternative fuels will hence be critical for decarbonizing shipping.

In the long term, i.e., beyond 2035-2040, E-fuels, the so-called synthetic fuels made of renewable electricity, are expected to be available at scale and play a crucial role.

But what about the near term between 2022 and 2035 and potentially beyond?

It is crucial then to bridge from this period to the next era and that we take advantage of the most advanced related technology available today, i.e. the natural gas. The importance of gas to support that transition was recently recognized by the “RePowerEU” Plan presented mid-May by the EC mid.

In shipping, natural gas plays a significant role under LNG format: Liquified Natural Gas. With LNG, ships can now reduce their SOx and NOx emissions by 100% and their CO2 emissions by 20% as measured on a full lifecycle (Well-to-Wake) basis, compared to conventional fuel oils. Even the methane slip issue is increasingly addressed with engine solutions available today, which have almost no slip (half of the new build orders of vessels used in deep-sea shipping). For others, manufacturers have identified pathways to virtually eliminate it by 2030.

LNG is not an objective in se, as LNG is a fuel of transition: the beauty today with LNG is that this fuel and the existing related technology and infrastructure, will support the deployment of bio-LNG and E-LNG, later on.

LNG-fueled ships can use bio-LNG and renewable synthetic LNG (e-LNG), produced from renewable electricity, without any modification as they are fully fungible drop-in fuels. Similarly, ships can be supplied with bio and synthetic LNG using the same LNG bunkering vessels and equipment and the same storage tanks and transportation infrastructure. This is a significant advantage to avoid stranded assets in vessels and in land infrastructures.

Gas and in particular bio-gas and e-gas will play a crucial contribution in the decarbonization of shipping, side by side with other developments. As such they deserve a faire place in the maritime related provisions of the Fit for 55 legislative package.