The first ammonia-powered boat could be launched in 2022

Ammonia (volatile alkali) is one of the credible fuels to replace diesel in maritime transport. Not only does it not emit any CO2 during its combustion, but it has a strong argument: its cost. This alkali is much cheaper to use than hydrogen, another candidate for replacing diesel.

An ammonia molecule consists of three hydrogen atoms bonded to a central nitrogen atom, two chemical elements that are abundant on earth. The advantage of this mixture is that hydrogen can be stored much more efficiently than when this gas is present in its pure state.

Builders have entered a race to see who will be the first to float an ammonia ship. While Maersk, the world’s largest shipping company, is considering the issue, one of the most ambitious candidates is Andrew Forrest, a billionaire owner of Fortescue Metals Group (FMG), one of Australia’s leading mining companies.

Fortescue Future Industries (FFI), a subsidiary of his company tasked with developing ways to “green” the group’s operations, has the task of converting the engines of MMA levela chemical transport ship, by the end of 2022.

A (very) small step for the mining industry

The boat, which shuttles between mainland and offshore drilling platforms in Australia and New Zealand, measures 75 metres. It is currently powered by four diesel engines.

In early 2021, New Atlas reports, FFI managed to use a mixture of ammonia and another fuel to power a locomotive engine. Ammonia needs to be mixed with fossil fuel to ignite faster.

But this alkali also has its disadvantages. If it does not produce carbon dioxide when burned, many greenhouse gases are still emitted during its manufacture. This needs to be remedied if we want to produce this fuel on a large scale in order to advantageously replace diesel.

Additionally, the announcement of this first ammonia-powered vessel could have simple marketing goals green washing. The iron ore production industry is immensely polluting, especially when it comes to turning it into steel.

If the Australian company really wants to go green, a clean boat is just a small step towards the huge strides it still has to make.

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