Developing ammonia-powered short sea bulk carrier designs

Kongsberg Maritime is helping to develop a series of new short sea bulk carriers that will be powered by ammonia for zero-emissions maritime transport

  • Gunvor Hatling Midtbø
    Vice President, Communications

Kongsberg Maritime is a principal partner in a pioneering new project, FlexBulk, to develop and build five fully-operational, ammonia-powered short sea bulk carriers. Ammonia is considered by many industry stakeholders to be the most promising zero carbon fuel for the future.

Viridis Bulk Carriers is a new shipowner in the short sea bulk segment, focusing solely on vessels powered by ammonia. The company, a Norwegian joint venture whose aim is to develop a fleet of zero-emission bulk carriers, will own and operate the vessels built in the FlexBulk project. FlexBulk has attracted a grant from the Norwegian government under its PILOT-E scheme, a funding initiative for the Norwegian business sector. 

Five, multipurpose bulk vessels will be built, each of which is scheduled for delivery between 2024 and 2026. The shipyards for the project are yet to be confirmed.

The power generator and battery hybrid system will use ammonia to generate propulsive power, and an exhaust gas aftertreatment system, also optimised for ammonia, will eliminate any by-products. This ensures that CO2 emissions are not replaced with other harmful pollutants.

The new vessels will include built-in support for batteries and a shore power connection, as part of an ammonia-electric hybrid power system that will enable silent manoeuvring and cargo operations.

The five vessels will have a single base design that can be configured for different types of cargo, ranging from wind turbine blades to grain shipments. 

Currently, ammonia is more expensive than conventional marine fuels. However, the cost is expected to drop and become more competitive in the market in the years to come. 

“In time, carbon pricing will make FlexBulk and similar ship types competitive purely on cost and Viridis will then be well positioned for further growth.” Einar Arne Vegsund, Director - Ship Design Solutions, Kongsberg Maritime

Kongsberg Maritime will deliver the fuel gas supply system (FGSS) along with all aspects of vessel design covering hydrodynamics and stability, safety, machinery and electrical systems. 

Einar Vegsund, Kongsberg Maritime's Joint Program Owner, points to the business potential of the project, as well as the environmental benefits. 

“The European short sea bulk market currently consists of some 3,000 vessels,” says Vegsund. “However, the average fleet age is the highest of any major shipping market. With this in mind, massive new building efforts will be needed in the years to come.”

The strategy adopted by Viridis, Einar says, is not to take a wait-and-see approach to decarbonisation, but "to partner with high-end clients who are making value-driven choices to decarbonise before CO2 pricing is in place, choosing an active rather than passive approach to the challenge."

The main goal of the FlexBulk project is to create the infrastructure for a fully carbon free short sea bulk transportation service consisting of cargo, ships and fuel logistics. In addition to the development of the technology needed for an ammonia-powered system, there are logistics questions. 

Other project partners will work to optimise the cargo logistics network, increasing the commercial utilisation of the ships to lower relative costs and finally integrating ammonia fuel logistics into the cargo network.

Flexible Bulk Carrier, NVC 4050 NH3

André Risholm

André Risholm is Founder and CEO of Amon Maritime

“As a fuel, ammonia is less energy dense than diesel, so you need a higher volume of it to go the same distance. It's also highly toxic, so we have to make sure it is as safe as a ship using conventional fuels," says André Risholm, founder and CEO of Amon Maritime. 

Risholm points out that ammonia is one of the very few liquid fuels that can be burned in an engine, yet does not contain carbon, unlike biofuels. He adds that it has the "best characteristics" for storage and there is already over 100 years of experience dealing with ammonia for industry. Over 130 ports globally have infrastructure to handle ammonia. 

The European short sea bulk fleet is ageing and Viridis sees opportunities in the anticipated growing demand for new build vessels. It plans to meet this opportunity head on by avoiding the path of gradual emission reductions and instead moving straight to the long-term solution. 

"The short sea bulk carrier market is also very large – in Europe alone, there are about 3,000 vessels – and the ships of tomorrow need to be as good as the ships of today. We don't want to sacrifice range to achieve carbon free or very low carbon operations," says Risholm.

There is the potential too, he adds, for ammonia to be used on longer shipping routes such as from the Far East to the United States or Europe. Ammonia takes up three times as much space as diesel, but Risholm reckons that diesel storage only takes up "a very small part of a large cargo ship". 

"Ammonia is a great platform. The world is shifting not just to more autonomous solutions, but also to decarbonisation, so we really are building the future."