Clean maritime: unlocking green fuel solutions

Three technicians with hydrogen fuel cell

Credit: Sunbourne Systems

New research project explores the use of ammonia in internal combustion engines as a possible decarbonisation solution for the marine sector.

An innovative group of marine businesses have begun an eight-month feasibility study into the use of ammonia as an alternative fuel, thanks to a grant of £260,000.

Marine technology company, Ocean Infinity, has partnered with power systems specialists, Cummins, and decarbonisation technology company, Sunborne Systems, to deliver the project.

Ammonia as an alternative fuel

As a zero-carbon alternative to fossil fuels, ammonia has several advantages. It naturally eliminates carbon and sulphur emissions at the point of use, and it can be stored in a smaller space than the equivalent amount of hydrogen.

Plus, its widespread use as a fertiliser means that it’s already a familiar product in ports. So existing storage could be quickly and safely increased and adapted for its use as a fuel.

Yet a key challenge to using ammonia is that it is much slower to ignite than hydrogen.

One solution could be to partly crack the ammonia into its constituent parts of nitrogen and hydrogen before feeding the hydrogen to a fuel cell. High purification requirements make this a difficult and costly solution onboard a vessel.

Combining the characteristics of ammonia and hydrogen for use in high-speed internal combustion engines may have significant advantages.

This feasibility study will look at whether integrating the ammonia cracking process with an internal combustion engine can reduce costs. Along with increasing the reliability and efficiency of the power system.

A viable decarbonisation pathway

Project manager and Chemical Engineer at Ocean Infinity, George Morton, explained:

We believe that ammonia is a big part of the maritime sector’s alternative future fuel mix.

There are currently thousands of ships with combustion engines which have no viable decarbonisation pathway. Retrofitting these ships with this system would unlock a cost-effective solution to help them reduce emissions.

Once the project is completed, the group plan to test the results on Ocean Infinity’s Armada fleet of advanced 78-metre vessels. Designed to use renewable energy sources and green fuels such as ammonia.

About the project

The Scalable Ammonia/Hydrogen Marine Internal Combustion Engine Architecture project is part of the Clean Maritime Demonstration Competition round two (CMDC2).

Part of the UK Shipping Office for Reducing Emission’s (UK SHORE), which was launched in May 2022.

CMDC is funded by the Department for Transport and delivered in partnership with Innovate UK.

As part of the CMDC2, over £14 million was allocated to 31 projects. Supported by 121 organisations from across the UK to deliver feasibility studies and collaborative research and development projects in clean maritime solutions.

The clean maritime video playlist is available on Innovate UK’s YouTube channel.

Last updated: 17 March 2023

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