EU Provides $7.4M for Reducing Methane Slip from Marine Engines

The European Union is providing €7 million ($7.4 million) in funding for research efforts to reduce methane slip from marine engines and the operation of the growing fleet of LNG-fueled vessels. The Green Ray project which involves a consortium of major engine manufacturers and shipping companies will focus on developing on-engine technologies as well as an after-treatment concept joining several other projects underway in European ad Japan focusing on how to further reduce or eliminate methane emissions.

Methane emissions in all their forms are one of the primary elements being targeted by the world community. Scientists point out that methane as a greenhouse gas has a 100-year global warming potential that is around 30 times that of CO2. During the UN-sponsored global climate conferences, world leaders have committed to efforts both to identify the major sources of methane emissions and to develop technologies to eliminate all forms of methane emissions.

Methane slip, the release of unburnt methane from marine and other engines, continues to be one of the most debated points with environmentalists arguing that the shipping industry must abandon its rapid adoption of LNG-fueled ships. Trade groups and engine manufacturers point to the success in reducing methane emissions from newer engines as well as the emerging technologies to enhance the performance of older engines. Wärtsilä, one of the participants in the Green Ray project, for example, highlights that methane slip from its dual-fuel engines has been cut by up to 85 percent.

“This research will allow us to build on the continuous improvements made in reducing methane slip from engines over the past twenty years,” said Sebastiaan Bleuanus, General Manager, Research Coordination & Funding, Wärtsilä Marine Power. “Taking these solutions for newbuilds and retrofits to near commercial readiness will be an important step for the long-term viability of LNG as a marine fuel.”

Coordinated by VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland, the Green Ray project brings together companies from across the shipping value chain. Shipyard Chantiers de l’Atlantique, ship owner CMA CGA, ship manager MSC Cruises Management, classification society DNV, the Finnish Meteorological Institute, the non-profit organization Revolve Water and energy major Shell are all participating.

The project will develop on-engine technologies for low-pressure dual-fuel engines – both 2- and 4-stroke – as well as an after-treatment concept. These solutions will be advanced to a high state of technology readiness, including demonstrators installed on two newbuilds and one retrofitted to an existing vessel. All the technologies developed in Green Ray will also be fully capable to utilize bio- or synthetic methane instead of fossil LNG.

“Methane slip has become an important factor in ship owners’ decisions about whether to use LNG fuel,” said Kati Lehtoranta, Principal Scientist, VTT. “ With these promising technologies, we aim to reduce the slip contributing directly to the reduction of the total greenhouse gas emissions, opening this pathway to an even wider segment of the maritime market.”

The adoption of LNG-fueled ships has accelerated in the past few years. DNV in its Alternative Fuels Insights database calculates that there are currently 360 vessels in service capable of operating on LNG. Martin Wold, Principal Consultant at DNV, highlighted at the end of 2022 that “81 percent of all ships with alternative fuels ordered last year was with LNG fuel and the pipeline is by no means exhausted.” They calculated 222 new orders in 2022 for LNG-fueled ships, including three-quarters of all the containerships and car carriers ordered bringing the total to 515 LNG-fueled ships due for delivery between 2023 and 2028.

As part of the Green Ray project, Wärtsilä will develop technology specifically for low-pressure 4-stroke dual-fuel engines that enables methane slip reduction, increases efficiency, and lower operational costs at all engine loads. This technology targets the largest four-stroke engines on the market as widely used by cruise ships, ferries, and gas carriers. Wärtsilä will also develop an on-engine technology for 2-stroke engines around a patented LNG injection system to reduce methane slip and both technologies will be demonstrated on in-service vessels.

Another participant, Shell has developed a proprietary methane abatement catalyst system that has been lab tested and scaled up to a field demonstration, and will work to further expand its technology. Among the shipping participants, CMA CGM has heavily invested in LNG-fueled containerships and MSC’s cruise group recently launched its first LNG-fueled cruise ship to be followed by a second in 2023 and a third under construction at Chantiers de l’Atlantique.

The Green Ray project will run until 2027. It received the funding from Horizon Europe, the EU’s key funding program for research and innovation. EU members had set a budget of €95.5 billion $101 billion) for the fund to tackle the challenges of climate change.

Originally published in the Baltic Transport Journal, May 2022.

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