Thetius perception study unpicks complexity of maritime pathway to net-zero

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Thetius, the marine technology research consultancy, has launched its Maritime Alternative Fuels Barometer, measuring the gaps between the shipping industry’s perception of alternative marine fuels and the reality in terms of availability, supply, technological readiness and impact on emissions. The barometer is the result of a perception study designed to critically examine the future fuels landscape and better understand the future fuels debate. It is based on an analysis of market announcements, data on alternative fuels from DNV’s Alternative Fuels Insight platform, and 25 interviews with a range of maritime stakeholders.

The barometer provides a comprehensive outlook to the industry when making informed decisions for a sustainable future. It reveals a consensus on a multifuel future in shipping. Yet the transition will only happen once infrastructure is built, safety issues resolved, regulatory uncertainty reduced, and fuel availability worries lessened. And it forecasts a phased approach to decarbonisation with initial adoption in niche markets before broader industry-wide uptake.

Thetius’ analysis reveals:
• A multi-fuel future is inevitable, requiring a diverse and phased fuel strategy emphasising transition fuels like LNG and methanol in the short to medium term.
• Despite perceptions, most methanol today is fossil-fuel-derived ‘grey methanol’ with high emissions – green methanol scalability is a key challenge.
• While batteries and shore power can support decarbonisation, deep-sea shipping electrification remains unrealistic.
• Future fuels like hydrogen and ammonia hold promise but face massive hurdles around infrastructure, storage, bunkering and skills.
• Operational and technical optimisations will be crucial alongside alternative fuels.

The study makes three main recommendations to the shipping industry. First, develop a diverse fuel strategy with an emphasis on transition fuels; second, invest heavily in infrastructure and safety for future fuels; and finally, embrace technological and operational optimisations.

Nick Chubb, Founder and Strategy Director of Thetius said: “The marine fuel landscape is rapidly changing as new technology comes to market. Decision makers need support to understand the market. Even existing alternative fuels require careful planning and a long-term view to be sure you can meet the technical, safety, and environmental standards required of the industry. We are delighted to be able to bring this insight to the market and provide further assistance to teams making important and influential decisions about how to fuel their fleets for the future.”

Commenting on the analysis, Steve Esau, Chief Operating Officer at SEA-LNG said: “While there is no silver bullet for 2030, it is pleasing to see a significant role for LNG in the short to medium term. This study highlights once again the need for immediate action if the shipping industry is to reach net-zero by 2050 – waiting is not an option. It is also clear that by 2050 deep-sea shipping will rely on multiple fuels, including LNG, as it transitions from a fossil fuel through bio to e-LNG. The lessons learnt from the introduction of LNG as a marine fuel will benefit all alternative fuels.”

As well as assessing fuel options, the barometer outlines some key considerations for operators as they progress down the pathway to decarbonisation. Training and education of seafarers and other workers in the value chain is vital for dealing with future fuels that can pose greater hazards than fuel oils have done. Even after correct training, concerns about safety may persist but the industry can look to its past adoption of fuels such as LNG to help it plan how to manage the risks of fuels like ammonia, methanol and hydrogen. Meanwhile, as the sector continues through its energy transition, the clear message from experts in the industry is that our low-carbon future has to involve technological and operational optimisations such as hull and propeller optimisation to reduce energy consumption and lower emissions.

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