Morocco + green hydrogen could be at heart of sustainable shipping revolution


The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) has predicted green hydrogen-powered ‘e-ammonia‘ will supply the “backbone of the decarbonization of the shipping sector.”

Renewable-energy powered green hydrogen will be used to form the e-ammonia ‘powerfuel‘ which will contribute 60% of shipping's mid-century decarbonization effort, under IRENA's pathway to a world that will see global heating this century capped at 1.5 degrees Celsius.

Such a fuel transition will require 866-1,299 GW of global solar generation capacity by 2050, according to IRENA, from a projected global clean energy generation capacity of 2,799 GW.

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A Pathway to Decarbonise the Shipping Sector by 2050, a report recently published by the UAE-based international body, notes the crucial role that could be played by Morocco in achieving zero-carbon shipping, given the nation's vast renewable energy potential and strategic location, with access to the Atlantic and Mediterranean sea lanes.

The 116-page report lists the policies required to support a sector that, in 2018, contributed around 3% of global carbon emissions and is outside national climate change regulations. The suggestions included identifying the world's most promising renewable energy generation sites and establishing a shipping industry body to coordinate renewables plant development in such zones with national governments, to feed a raised appetite for the clean power needed to produce green hydrogen and, indirectly, e-ammonia.

With global trade body the International Chamber of Shipping having last month proposed a carbon levy per ton of carbon and equivalents emitted by tankers with a gross tonnage of more than 5,000 tons, the IRENA report also noted the vital need for a realistic carbon levy to level the playing field for sustainable fuels against fossil fuel-based alternatives.

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The study estimated e-ammonia costs will fall from around US$143-219/MWh today to around $67-114/MWH by mid-century and predicted ‘blue ammonia' – requiring the use of nitrogen and natural gas-plus-carbon-capture powered ‘blue hydrogen‘ – is likely to play a “transitional role.” However, over-expanding natural gas-powered shipping options runs the risk of stranding such assets further down the line, the report warned.

If IRENA's expectations are borne out, the sector will require 46 million tons of green hydrogen in mid-century, of which 73% will power e-ammonia, 17% e-methanol, and of which 10% will be used directly to power vessels, probably on shorter, domestic shipping routes.

The report stressed the need for global policymakers to act now to expand the storage and refueling options at key ports such as Singapore; Fujairah, in the UAE; and Rotterdam, in the Netherlands; as well as at shipping ‘pinch points' in the Panama and Suez canals and the Straits of Malacca, because large and very large vessels have an operational life of 25-30 years.

IRENA estimated commercial e-ammonia vessels will be operational in 2023 and noted a project by Finnish company Wärtsilä and Norwegian business Grieg Edge which is aiming to develop the world's first greenhouse gas-free renewable ammonia-powered tanker by 2024, with the help of $5.34 million from the Norwegian government.

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