Eliminating emissions in bulk transport

Zeroed in

We are playing our part in ensuring a sustainable future for the shipping industry with work on new bulk carriers that will be powered by ammonia

  • Gunvor Hatling Midtbø
    Vice President, Communications

A pioneering new project in which Kongsberg Maritime is a principal partner is working to develop a bulk carrier that is fully functional and flexible but also produces zero emissions.

The FlexBulk project, which reinforces our sustainability credentials, involves building five flexible vessels that are powered by ammonia. This 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 will own and operate the vessels built in the FlexBulk project, which has attracted a grant from the Norwegian government under its PILOT-E scheme.

In total, five bulk vessels will be built, each of which is scheduled for delivery between 2024 and 2026. The shipyards that will be contracted to carry out the work have yet to be confirmed.

This fleet will be powered by ammonia, which the project partners believe is the most promising zero carbon fuel for the future. 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, so that CO2 emissions are not replaced with other harmful pollutants.

There will be a strong focus on safety with special measures taken to limit the risk, ensuring it is similar to that found on conventional ships.

The five vessels will have a single base design, but it will be cost effective to configure them to cater for different types of bulk cargo. This could range from wind turbine blades through to project cargo, grain or aquafeeder duties.

At present, zero carbon ammonia is more expensive to use than conventional marine fuels. However, it is anticipated that over time, the cost will drop and it will be able to compete successfully in the marketplace.

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 provide the additional benefit of allowing for silent manoeuvring and cargo operations.

Playing our part in a sustainable future

Kongsberg Maritime has a significant role in the FlexBulk project. We are involved with deliverables in the fuel gas supply system (FGSS) along with all aspects of vessel design covering hydrodynamics and stability, safety, machinery and electrical aspects.

Einar Vegsund, our Joint Program Owner, says that in addition to the environmental benefits of the project, the long-term business case for the concept is very compelling.

“The European short sea bulk market currently consists of some 3,000 vessels,” he adds. “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. “It is to partner with high-end clients who are making value-driven choices to decarbonize before CO2 pricing is in place, choosing an active rather than passive approach to the challenge.

“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

The main goal of the project is to create the infrastructure for a fully carbon free short sea bulk transportation service consisting of cargo, ships and fuel logistics.

The key to achieving this will be the design and build of these cost-efficient and flexible ammonia-powered short sea bulk carriers as they will provide competitive flexibility and tradeability.

Fundamental to progress will be the work to evaluate and choose the right ammonia power system, technology and integration for the ships.

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.

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."

The way to do this, he adds, is through innovation, starting the build from scratch with the fuel at the heart of the system.

"But the great thing about ammonia is that it is one of very few liquid fuels that can be burned in an engine that doesn't contain carbon – all biofuels do. "There are very few carbon-free opportunities out there and ammonia is one of them.

“It also has the best characteristics for storage and there is a lot of experience in the industry – we have produced it commercially for more than 100 years and over 130 ports in the world already have the infrastructure."

As the price of conventional fuels rises, André adds, ammonia will become more cost competitive.

"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."

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. "It does need three times as much space as diesel, but then the storage of diesel takes up only 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."

Flexible Bulk Carrier, NVC 4050 NH3

Future opportunities

The European short sea bulk fleet is ageing and Viridis sees opportunities in the anticipated growing demand for new build vessels. It aims to meet this by building zero emission ships, avoiding taking the path of gradual emission reductions and instead moving straight to more challenging but adventurous solutions.

The PILOT-E scheme is a funding initiative for the Norwegian business sector. It was launched as a collaboration between the Research Council, Innovation Norway and Enova SF.

Its objective is to promote more rapid development and deployment of new and environmentally friendly energy technology products and services to help to reduce emissions both in Norway and internationally, something also very much at the heart of Kongsberg Maritime's #SeaChange sustainability campaign

Calls for proposals under the PILOT-E scheme are targeted towards specific societal challenges. The scheme is considered to be particularly suitable for larger consortia that address complex challenges ranging from research activity to commercial realisation.

PILOT-E is designed to work with its participants throughout the entire technology development pathway from concept to market.