As of 1st January 2015, seagoing vessels sailing in Emission Control Areas (ECAs) must use fuels with maximum 0.1% sulphur content. ECAs comprise the Baltic and North Sea in Europe and most of the US and Canadian coasts as well as the US Caribbean Sea area. In all other waters across the globe, the sulphur cap will be lowered from the current 3.5% to 0.5% by either 2020 or 2025, depending on the results of a feasibility review planned for 2018. The new limits were set by the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) through Annex VI of the MARPOL Convention1. The Convention imposes also strict requirements on emissions of nitrogen oxides (NOx) in ECAs, which all marine diesel engines installed after 1 January 2016 must comply with. This will significantly reduce the total emission of nitrogen oxides in shipping.
The sulphur requirements of the MARPOL Convention were incorporated in EU law via the Sulphur Directive 2012/33/EU, which prescribes the use of fuels with a maximum 0,5% sulphur content in all EU waters (non- ECAs) as of 2020, independently of the results of the 2018 review.
Moreover, EU policy2 is also targeting a reduction of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from the shipping sector of at least 40% by 2050. Currently, GHG emissions from global shipping amount to around 1 billion tonnes a year, which corresponds to 3% of the world's total. In the EU, the proportion of emissions from shipping stands higher at 4% of the total. If no measures are taken, CO2 emissions from the shipping industry are expected to increase between 240% and 600% by 2050 according to the Transport Outlook 2015 published by the OECD International Transport Forum. In addition, the availability and cost of fossil fuels are matters of concern.
The use of LNG as propulsion fuel for shipping, the use of low sulphur fuels and the installation of exhaust gas scrubbers are the main alternatives for compliance with the more stringent air emission requirements for vessels.
Comparing the relative emissions for these various compliance options shows that LNG propulsion has the most environmental benefits. LNG propelled ships emit hardly any particulate matter, about 90% less sulphur oxides, up to 90% less NOx and 20-25% less CO2, representing a good solution for the reduction of both relevant substances and GHG emissions. The use of LNG as an alternative fuel for shipping has therefore greater environmental potential than fuel oils and distillates, even taking into account the production and transport process.
There are however concerns regarding the methane release that can occur during all stages of the LNG life-cycle. Since methane is 20-25 times more powerful than CO2 as a greenhouse gas during a 100 year time span, the issue requires careful handling. The specific case of methane emissions resulting from internal engine combustion has been extensively addressed and discussed. "Methane slip" results from the incomplete gas combustion leading to the emission of small amounts of methane to the atmosphere. Engine technology is the way to address this problem. Different engine concepts are available today for using LNG as a shipping fuel. Working on gas only or in dual fuel arrangements, fourstroke engines have gone through serious design improvements to minimize methane-slip, whilst in modern two-stroke engines this has already been practically eliminated during combustion.
To minimize methane slip, additional specific measures could be developed, like: methane emissions mitigation plans, optimisation of transport efficiency of LNG-fuelled ships and adequate design of the LNG supply chain.
LNG is also expected to be less costly than marine gas oil (MGO). Current low LNG prices in Europe and the USA suggest that a price - based on energy content - below that of heavy fuel oil (HFO) is possible, even when taking into account the small-scale distribution of LNG.
With the exception of Norway, the take-up of LNG as ship fuel in Europe is still at an early stage, and key stakeholders typically identify three main barriers: the lack of adequate bunker facilities for LNG, the gaps in the legislative or regulatory framework, and the lack of harmonized standards.
The recently adopted Directive 2014/94/EU on the deployment of alternative fuels infrastructure aims to solve the first problem by requiring Member States to provide an appropriate number of LNG refuelling points for maritime and inland waterway transport in the maritime ports of the TEN-T Core Network by 31 December 2025 and in the inland ports by 31 December 2030.
To address the next two barriers, the Commission launched at the end of 2014 the Study on the completion of an EU framework on LNG-fuelled ships and its relevant fuel provision infrastructure. The results should be available in the second half of 2015.
The overall aim of the study is to analyse the current legal and procedural situation, as well as trends and obstacles for the use of LNG as a fuel for ships in the EU. As a part of this study, an awareness campaign has been carried out, providing balanced information about LNG as an alternative fuel for shipping (cf. www.lngforshipping.eu). The website will be kept updated and enriched with new inputs.
At the same time, by means of its Connecting Europe Facility (CEF), the EU is providing financial support for the development and deployment of LNG-related technologies and facilities. Following the 2014 CEF call for proposals, about EUR 43.5 million has been allocated to projects promoting LNG deployment in the maritime sector. Additional funding will be made available in the CEF call to be launched in the fall 2015.
Various international organizations and relevant expert fora support the harmonization of standards and the overall promotion of LNG as a maritime fuel: IMO, EMSA, IACS, SIGGTO and SMGF just to name a few. Also the European Commission has established the European Sustainable Shipping Forum as a cooperation platform for Member States and maritime industry stakeholders, to enable a structural dialogue, exchange of best practices and coordination, thus providing the opportunity to discuss practical issues related to sustainability of maritime transport. LNG is one of the main topics. It is extremely important to develop clear directives, while leaving some margin for adaptation to local circumstances.
Summing-up, the main obstacles to the use of LNG in maritime transport are being removed and LNG is on its way to become a feasible and greener alternative to the use of fuel oils and distillates for ships.