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Low-Carbon Ships

image credit: Yara International ASA
John Benson's picture
Senior Consultant Microgrid Labs

PROFESSIONAL EXPERIENCE: Microgrid Labs, Inc. Advisor: 2014 to Present Developed product plans, conceptual and preliminary designs for projects, performed industry surveys and developed...

  • Member since 2013
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  • Jul 21, 2020

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This will be a nautical paper of a different kind. Whereas my prior nautical post focused on electrically powered boats and ships that had already been built or were soon to be completed, this post will focus solely on the power source of ships, starting with the present, and defining possible future power plants and fuels that will let ships migrate to very low greenhouse gas (GHG) operation.

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Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Jul 21, 2020

Ships, like planes, will be some of the most stubborn areas of the economy to decarbonize-- so it's definitely good to see a diversity of low carbon approaches being explored

Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on Jul 22, 2020

Here is a page with a series of articles about ammonia as a shipping fuel, from

The most common approach seems to use large internal combustion engines to burn the ammonia, but the solid oxide fuel cells get some discussion too.

Of course, the difficult part is that when in international waters, ships usually burn the cheapest fuel they can get, which often means the dirtiest.  So some of the proposals call for switching to clean fuel on near ports.


Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Jul 22, 2020

I'm not in tune with the specifics of how international waters & law really work-- is there any possibility for an international agreement in the future that would include clean fuel mandates beyond just near port? Or is that too messy of a legal topic to start tackling? Alternatively, would a loophole to that be something about near-port regulations about what types of fuels are allowed to be boarded onto a vessel?

John Benson's picture
John Benson on Jul 22, 2020

Thanks for the comments Matt & Nathon:

Per Section 2.1 in this post: "...International Marine Organization (IMO) agreed to limit the sulfur content in all marine fuels to 0.5 percent beginning in 2020."

I looked at this to see if there was any wiggle room, and there was, but it went away, and the transition was a non-event. Go through the link below for details.

Also, when ships get to port, I believe local authorities have the ability to verify complience in a number of ways, and I believe they can also do this in their territorial waters (normally the exclusive exonomic zone - 200 miles offshore).



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