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Wärtsilä testing ammonia as combustion fuel

26 March 2020

Wärtsilä has initiated combustion trials using ammonia. The research objective is to prepare for the use of ammonia as a fuel that can contribute to reducing both the shipping’s and energy sectors’ GHG emissions, the company said.

As part of the tests, ammonia was injected into a combustion research unit to better understand its properties. Based on initial results, the tests will be continued on both dual-fuel and spark-ignited gas engines. These will be followed by field tests in collaboration with ship owners from 2022, and potentially also with energy customers in the future.

“The first tests have yielded promising results and we will continue to optimise combustion parameters,” said Kaj Portin, General Manager, Fuel & Operational Flexibility, Wärtsilä Marine.

According to Wärtsilä, ammonia is a promising, carbon-free fuel as shipping explores how to fulfil the International Maritime Organization’s vision of reducing GHG emissions from shipping by at least 50% by 2050. Although ammonia is derived mainly from fossil sources today, in the future ammonia could be produced using electricity from renewable sources.

Wärtsilä is also developing ammonia storage and supply systems as part of the EU project ShipFC to install ammonia fuel cells on Eidesvik Offshore’s supply vessel Viking Energy by 2023. The company has also gained significant experience with ammonia from designing cargo handling systems for liquid petroleum gas carriers, many of which are used to transport ammonia.

Ammonia has a number of properties that require further investigation. It ignites and burns poorly compared to other fuels and is toxic and corrosive, making safe handling and storage important. A regulatory framework and class rules will need to be developed for its use as a marine fuel.

Burning ammonia could also lead to higher NOx emissions unless controlled either by aftertreatment or by optimising the combustion process. Additionally, some early research showed the possibility of increased emissions of N2O—a potent greenhouse gas—from the combustion of ammonia [4672].

Wärtsilä said it is investigating several future fuels, including synthetic methane, ammonia, hydrogen and methanol, with a view to provide more flexibility across engines and the fuel chain. Internal combustion engines can be adapted to burn any fuel. Dual-fuel or spark-ignited engines are already capable of burning liquified natural gas—from fossil, biomass or synthetic sources—while diesel engines can run on liquid biofuels, biodiesel or e-diesel.

Source: Wärtsilä