In 2021, the Global Centre for Maritime Decarbonisation launched in Singapore with the aim of helping international shipping decarbonise along a trajectory that meets key targets including Net Zero.
At the Marine Environment Protection Committee meeting (MEPC 80) in July 2023, member countries pledged to reduce shipping emissions by 20-30 percent in 2030 and 70-80 percent by 2040 compared to 2008 levels. The goal is to reach net-zero greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from international shipping around 2050.
While the goal of Net Zero in 2050 has been in place for years, this pledge is the firmest commitment from the maritime sector to meet the target. Reaching it will require significant collaboration and innovation across the industry. One organisation assisting with those efforts is the Global Centre for Maritime Decarbonisation (GCMD).
Creating this body was one of the recommendations the International Advisory Panel for Maritime Decarbonisation submitted to the Singapore Government in 2021. The non-profit organisation’s mission is to support decarbonisation across the industry as it looks to meet or exceed the IMO goals for 2030, 2040 and 2050 by shaping standards, deploying solutions, financing projects and fostering collaboration across sectors.
GCMD has a number of initiatives ongoing, including facilitating ammonia use as a marine fuel, developing an assurance framework for drop-in green fuels, unlocking the carbon value chain through shipboard carbon capture and closing the data-financing gap to widen the adoption of energy efficiency technologies. Tackling obstacles of this size is a significant undertaking that requires a measured approach.
“Recognising that there is still significant work to translate 2D projections on paper to 3D solutions, we draw reference from the many reports out there that examine both optimistic and conservative scenarios of the energy and fuel transitions,” Professor Lynn Loo, CEO of Global Centre for Maritime Decarbonisation, says. “These pilots involve key industry players on both the ship and shore sides, financial institutions, regulators and port authorities making them complex and extended endeavours. Our approach therefore is to divide our pilots into several key phases, and curate a consortium of critical partners for each, with efforts marked by shorter-term milestones.”
With GHG emissions targets rapidly approaching, GCMD finds itself needing to strike a balance between speed and rigour. According to Prof. Loo, this ensures meaningful progress can be achieved without compromising quality, effectiveness and applicability of the organisation’s efforts.
“This is why we conduct our pilots under conditions that closely mirror commercial operations conditions so that we can capture actual pain points and work towards addressing them. Only then can we ensure that the learnings gained from these experiments are directly translatable to lowering the barriers for the adoption of these solutions and not become one-off experiments,” Prof. Loo states.
A major breakthrough
The first initiative launched by the GCMD was understanding the viability of ammonia for use as a marine fuel. Ammonia doesn’t have any carbon, making it a potential solution for Net Zero shipping operations. However, the toxicity and corrosiveness of ammonia, among other issues, required an industry-wide look at safety.
“The first phase of the ammonia as a marine fuel initiative thus involved us commissioning a safety study, conducted by DNV, Surbana Jurong and the Singapore Maritime Academy which was supported by an industry consultation and alignment panel of 22 partners that have experience handling ammonia across its supply chain, with inputs from a regulatory working group,” Prof. Loo states. “Given the parties involved, this safety study is as much the industry’s safety study as it is ours. It assessed four different concept designs for bunkering and breakbulk in the port waters of Singapore, and highlighted over 400 locational and operational risks, all of which are deemed mitigable by our study partners.”
This was seen as a significant milestone for the industry as it provided additional confidence that ammonia can be transferred safely as a marine fuel with proper risk mitigation procedures in place. GCMD has since embarked on the second phase of this initiative.
“The goal of the second phase is to conduct ship-to-ship cargo transfer of ammonia in port waters at key ports around the world to help ready the ecosystem for ammonia bunkering when ammonia-fuelled vessels become available,” Prof. Loo notes. “So specific to this initiative, the shorter-term goals include articulating the emergency response plans and conducting environmental impact assessments in the event of an ammonia leak, completing detailed and quantitative site-specific hazard and safety assessments, and ultimately conducting at least one such transfer pilot in close partnership with the relevant port authority within a year. Of course, the ultimate timeline would depend on us securing regulatory approvals for our pilots.”
GCMD’s ammonia as a marine fuel initiative highlights the importance stakeholders have in the process. Ultimately, bringing together partners across the maritime value chain has the greatest positive impact on decarbonisation. Of course, there needs to be a coordinating body fostering this collaboration.
“Individual companies–especially well-resourced ones–can go about trialling different technologies and solutions on their own. They can move fast and may be able to reduce their own emissions, but this action does not effect change at a global level. Governments and regulators can effect change on a macro level through incentives and policy interventions, but they are often slower to move,” Prof. Loo explains. “Decarbonisation centres, like GCMD and others around the world, sit in the sweet spot between these two levels. By bringing partners across the ecosystem together, we can be big enough to effect change and still small enough to be nimble.”
To help shape standards, the GCMD is committed to building and sharing knowledge on maritime decarbonisation. The organisation shares learnings from projects at international conferences and technical committee meetings of standards development groups while also openly publishing study findings and reports.
“The need for deep investments and a regulatory framework are hurdles that can delay the commissioning of pilots and trials,” Prof. Lynn points out. “GCMD is uniquely positioned to help overcome these roadblocks by co-funding these projects, and opening dialogue with relevant government agencies to accelerate the framing of regulatory sandboxes.”
Managing a multi-stakeholder consortium is not always straightforward. That’s why GCMD operates with guiding principles, including broadly engaging the ecosystem, listening intently to stakeholders, and openly sharing knowledge with partners.
These guiding principles have been vital in the organisation’s effort to bring partners onboard. Currently, GCMD has more than 100 centre- and project-level partners, all of whom share the common goal of accelerating the deployment of scalable low-carbon technologies while lowering the adoption barriers by closing the gaps in infrastructure, safety, operations and financing.
“Some of these partners provide funding, others share their knowledge and expertise and yet others give us access to their ships so we can conduct our pilots and trials. It is with this all-of-ecosystems approach that we have been able to move as quickly as we have in the past two years,” Prof. Loo reports. “It is also with this mindset that we have been able to bring stakeholders in adjacent sectors as well as nominal competitors in the same space on board. Decarbonisation will require us all working together.”
As the number of partners increases, so does the diversity of voices, opinions and feedback. For GCMD, the path to Net Zero in the shipping industry requires carefully listening to all stakeholders before choosing a pilot project.
“We balance stakeholder inputs and involvement by ensuring that we provide a platform for them to provide feedback and take it into consideration when scoping our projects,” Prof. Loo states. “We also ensure that we are transparent and accountable to our stakeholders by regularly communicating our progress through our published reports.”
- GCMD was established in August 2021 as a non-profit organisation with a mission to support the decarbonisation of the shipping industry
- The organisation was co-founded by the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore, BHP, BW Group, Eastern Pacific Shipping, Foundation Det Norske Veritas, Ocean Network Express and Seatrium
- More than 100 centre- and project-level partners have been brought onboard by the GCMD since its launch
- GCMD’s first initiative was understanding the viability of ammonia for use as a marine fuel with the project now in its second phase
- The ammonia as a marine fuel initiative involved a safety study conducted by DNV, Surbana Jurong and the Singapore Maritime Academy
- Other initiatives from the GCMD include work on an assurance framework for drop-in green fuels and unlocking the carbon value chain among other efforts
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