Ammonia as marine fuel - Update

Since March 2020, Norway has proposed to the International Maritime Organization (IMO) a list of issues with the International Code for the Construction and Equipment of Ships Carrying Liquefied Gases in Bulk (IGC Code) that need amendments. Among others, paragraph 16.9.2 of the IGC Code is identified concerning alternative fuels and technologies, especially for cargoes identified as toxic products such as ammonia.

The current paragraph 16.9.2 of the IGC Code reads: “The use of cargoes identified as toxic products shall not be permitted.” However, the IGF Code allows for equivalents when approved by the Administration in provision 2.3 and thus does not ban the use of ammonia as fuel.

Noting that:

  • Various studies have recognized ammonia as a promising long-term fuel that will facilitate the transition towards decarbonization in shipping. Ammonia can be produced carbon neutrally and has a favorable volumetric energy density. Bunkering ammonia does not necessitate significant changes; supply chains are already established near ports, and over 120 ports worldwide have facilities to import and export ammonia.

  • Ammonia ranks among the most traded chemical products globally and has been produced and utilized in large quantities since the early twentieth century. The shipping sector has extensive experience in handling ammonia, both as cargo on ammonia tankers and as refrigerants in reefers and fishing vessels to preserve cargo temperature.

  • So far, no commercial ammonia-fueled marine engines exist. Nevertheless, engine designers are actively developing and testing them. The first commercial marine ammonia-fuelled engines are reported to become available in 2024, initially as dual-fuel engines.

  • Ammonia tankers have considerable experience in transporting and managing ammonia as cargo. Their crews hold the necessary certifications to handle flammable and toxic gases and are familiar in existing procedures and regulations regarding maximum exposure levels. Ammonia tankers are subject to the IGC Code, which specifies requirements for storage, handling, distribution, material selection, personal protective equipment (PPE), and more. These conditions make ammonia carriers the preferred first users of ammonia as fuel, and the logical first movers in this space.

Considering the above, an amendment to paragraph 16.9.2 of the IGC Code has been proposed as follows:

“16.9.2 The use of cargoes identified as toxic products other than ‘Ammonia, anhydrous’ shall not be permitted.”

Taking into account the need to reduce GHG emissions from shipping, last week, IMO approved the proposal about paragraph 16.9.2 of the IGC Code. Therefore, this amendment is planned for adoption at MSC 109 (December 2024) with possible enforcement on July 1, 2026. If adopted, the amendments will apply to new and existing ships.