Shell: Liquid Hydrogen Will Be Dominant Future Fuel


Published Sep 29, 2020 9:48 PM by The Maritime Executive

In a 26-page report published Tuesday, oil major Royal Dutch Shell suggested that shipping has a hydrogen-powered future as the sector moves to decarbonize its operations. 

"We believe liquid hydrogen to be advantaged over other potential zero-emissions fuels for shipping, therefore giving a higher likelihood of success," Shell said. "[It is] attracting interest as a potential fuel for power and land-based transport and as a possible feedstock for industry. These other sectors could help develop and pay for some of the production and distribution infrastructure [and] the shipping sector should stand ready to capitalize on that development."

While technical work on its use as a marine fuel is not yet complete, Shell believes that safe designs can be engineered. Perhaps best of all, hydrogen could be used in "fuel-agnostic" fuel cells, which could be installed today and run on LNG until hydrogen is available. 

In a recent report, class society DNV GL endorsed renewably-sourced ammonia and methanol as the likeliest future marine fuels. However, Shell discounted the prospects of ammonia due to its toxicity, emissions and its high ignition energy. The oil major also suggested that methanol would likely not gain traction because its "pathway to zero emissions is considered less efficient than other zero-emissions fuel options." 

Likewise, it counted out biofuels, as it believes that land and air transport sectors will likely be able to pay more than shipping can for available supplies. As for nuclear power, it concluded that the negative public opinion on reactors would likely limit widespread adoption. 

Fuel cells are the key to Shell's hydrogen-powered future, as they are potentially a more fuel-efficient option. As an example, the solid-oxide technology fuel cells ordered for the cruise ship MSC Europa will develop electrical efficiency of 60 percent. Fuel cells can be up to 80 percent efficient if their waste heat is captured and used, according to Shell. By comparison, the world's most fuel-efficient low-speed diesel has a maximum energy conversion efficiency of 54 percent.

Shell also advocated for high-level steps towards decarbonization, calling on IMO to adopt a clear trajectory to net-zero GHG emissions by 2050, along with energy intensity reduction targets. The position is twice as ambitious as IMO's current target for 2050, and it reflects Shell's internal aim to reach net-zero carbon emissions by midcentury. 

Shell also called for regulatory policies encouraging uptake of LNG, biofuels and carbon offsets on an interim basis. The firm is the world's largest LNG commodity trader, and it is a member of the LNG marine fuel advocacy group SEA-LNG.