'Brave, innovative' | Fortescue vessel makes world-first use of ammonia as a shipping fuel




The Fortescue Green Pioneer receives landmark approval for the use of the hydrogen derivative from the Port of Singapore — but only in combination with diesel


The world’s first ever voyage using ammonia as a shipping fuel has been conducted in Singapore, following seven weeks of testing.


The Fortescue Green Pioneer — owned by Australian iron-ore billionaire Andrew Forrest’s Fortescue — runs “in combination with diesel in the combustion process”.


Ammonia — a highly toxic chemical made from hydrogen and nitrogen captured from the air — has long been touted as a future green shipping fuel, as it emits no carbon dioxide when burned, and contains more energy by volume than compressed or liquefied hydrogen.


However, despite the many ammonia-fuelled vessels now being built, no port authority had given the green light for the chemical to be used as a shipping fuel, mainly due to safety concerns — until now.


The Maritime and Port Authority (MPA) of Singapore has become the first to do so, following “rigorous testing of the [vessel’s] ammonia storage systems, associated piping, gas fuel delivery system, retrofitted engines and seaworthiness”.


“As part of the safety protocols for the conduct of these tests, crew members also donned personal protection equipment such as chemical protection suits, nitrile chemical gloves, rubber boots, positive pressure mask and hood, and portable gas detectors for the relevant operations,” MPA and Fortescue explained in a joint press release.


In addition, a series of hazard workshops were held “to identify the potential risks during fuel transfer and engine trials and to develop the necessary prevention, control, and mitigation measures”, while a model was developed to determine the “dispersion of an ammonia plume in the event of an incident, and to support the safety and incident response planning”.


The Fortescue Green Pioneer was loaded with three tonnes of NH3 at Vopak’s existing Banyan Terminal on Singapore’s Jurong Island, in what was a world first for ammonia bunkering.


The ship — which has received class approval and statutory certificates from classification society DNV — came to global prominence in December last year, when it sailed to Dubai for COP28. But as UAE authorities did not permit the use of ammonia as a shipping fuel, it was forced to run entirely on diesel.


Two of the vessel’s four four-stroke engines were converted to enable ammonia to be used as a fuel (only in combination with diesel) back in July last year. The two remaining engines “will operate on conventional fuels when required”.


The fuel trial in Singapore — in which the two ammonia/diesel engines “served as proxy for the commercialisation of ammonia-fuelled marine engines under development globally” — found that post-combustion levels of nitrogen oxides (NOx), which are harmful to human health, met the local air quality standard.


However, post-combustion levels of nitrous oxide (N2O) — which is 298 times more powerful a greenhouse gas than CO2 — appear not to have been given a similar thumbs-up. Without providing details, the MPA stated that “efforts to reduce… nitrous oxide emissions will continue as more ammonia-fuelled marine engines and ammonia sources with lower greenhouse gas emissions become available”.


Nitrogen and nitrous oxides form when ammonia is burned in oxygen-rich air.


“Fortescue has seen firsthand the willingness of Singapore to lead the world in taking brave, innovative action to build green ammonia shipping,” said Forrest.


“The Fortescue Green Pioneer is proof that safe, technical solutions for ammonia power engines exist. But as I did at COP 28 in Dubai, I am once again calling on the world’s ports to get on with setting fair, safe and stringent fuel standards for green ammonia and not shy away from their responsibilities simply because of a lack of character.


“We must push to see global emitters paying fair carbon prices for heavy fuels used in traditional shipping. These prices must provide clear investment signals to drive green investment.”


MPA chief executive Teo Eng Dih added: “The safe conduct of this fuel trial supports the holistic assessment of the use of ammonia as a marine fuel, and the development of standards and safety procedures.


“This will inform the crew training, emergency and bunkering procedures which MPA, agencies and the tripartite community are developing in support of making available safe and cost-efficient solutions as MaritimeSG [Singapore] and the international shipping community undergo the energy transition.”


The press release adds that the MPA and Fortescue “will present key learning points from the trials at suitable platforms as well as at other international fora in the future”.



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