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The Challenge

Maritime transport is responsible for almost 90% of the EU’s external freight trade and one third of intra-EU exchanges in terms of ton-kilometres. It has historically been a catalyst for the economic development of Europe, ensuring security of energy supply, food and commodities. Maritime transport is the main modality for Europe’s import and export activities, contributing largely to the EU’s prime position in global trade.

A particularly important role in this context has always been played by deep sea shipping, also known as intercontinental shipping. Although the amount of CO2 per item of cargo transported by deep sea vessels has been constantly falling over the last decades, the projected growth of the global fleet in the years to come may outstrip the efficiency gains achieved by the industry. According to 2020 IMO data, by 2050 global GHG emissions from shipping may increase by up to 50% as compared to 2018, in case nothing changes. The historical IMO 2050 goal of halving GHG emissions from shipping as compared to the 2008 baseline is at risk, as is the EU’s even more ambitious goal of cutting all transport emissions by 90% by 2050, as stipulated in the Green Deal.

The average age of a vessel today is 21 years according to the EU Waterborne Transport Technology Platform. If we keep in mind that the average lifetime of a vessel is 30 years, it becomes clear that a large part of the global shipping fleet will be replaced by newbuilds before 2030. This opens up a window of opportunity to significantly impact the way the global shipping fleet will be powered and get back on the course of reaching the IMO and EU goals. Continuing with “business as usual” does not constitute a very promising pathway, as the IMO 2020 data suggests. The current state of play calls for novel “deep decarbonisation” solutions.

There is growing agreement among researchers, industry stakeholders and policymakers that internal combustion engines (ICE) running on ammonia can be an important enabler in reaching the 2050 goals. The latest calculations published as part of DNV’s Maritime Forecast to 2050 suggest that ammonia ICEs could constitute as much as 30- 80% of the total energy use by shipping in 2050.6 However, in order to make a real-world impact, these solutions need to be developed now and enter the market in the next 7-10 years. This is precisely what the Ammonia2-4 project is aiming at.


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