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Talking at a Capital Link Forum as part of London International Shipping Week (LISW), Christopher J. Wiernicki, the ABS Chairman and CEO, and Martin Stopford, the author of Maritime Economics, agreed that the ‘rapid adoption’ of onboard carbon capture technology is going to be critical if shipping is to reach its net zero carbon emissions target.

While shipping is transitioning away from traditional fossil fuels, Wiernicki and Stopford pointed out that the alternatives like ammonia and methanol will be much more expensive, less readily available – and also in demand from other industries.

Consequently, they said, we will need to find ways to make the new fuels cheaper and more affordable – by reducing the cost of electrolysers – and also retrofit ships with carbon capture technology to mitigate emissions over the transition period.

‘The entire conversation is about what's going on in the internal combustion engine, but as you move from methanol to ammonia and LNG to green methanol, green ammonia and synthetic LNG, the pace is going to be driven by the cost of the electrolyser,’ said Wiernicki. ‘So, the two big things that I look at are how quickly you can reduce the cost of the electrolyser and the cost of carbon capture. If you can’t reduce the cost of the electrolyser fast enough, then you're into carbon capture and you have to go from grey to blue to green.’

Stopford commented: ‘Green fuels are probably a step backwards for an industry going from heavy fuel oil and the next bit of bad news is they're going to cost you $2,000 to $3,000 a tonne. This changes the whole economics of the business. And the final bit of bad news is that you won’t be able to get any of these fuels anyway because there are so many heavyweights already in the queue. For example, we feed the world by ammonia, which increases the yields 4, 5 or 6 times and there is nothing else if you take that away. Innovation is about making things work that don't work and we will find the only way you could bridge that enormous gap between running down the carbon the way the IMO wants us to is that you build or retrofit a lot of ships with carbon capture.’

Wiernicki added: ‘You're going to have to take an eagle eye look at energy efficiency and onboard carbon capture because you can't build enough ships to magically change the global fleet. So, retrofits are going to be important. Owners will need to take advantage of layering of technologies. They are going to have to figure out what makes sense relative to the risk profile of the business. Commercial decisions in our industry are going to be more than just the historical reading of supply and demand. It's going to be reading the technology to take a calculated risk with partners and charterers to move this forward.’

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