Danish shipping giant A.P. Møller – Mærsk, known more commonly as Maersk, is on track to become one of the world’s largest consumers of green hydrogen, having recently increased its order for renewable methanol-fuelled container vessels from Korean shipbuilder Hyundai Heavy Industries to 12.
Maersk and Hyundai Heavy Industries (HHI) announced back in August 2021 that HHI would build eight 16,000-TEU VLCSs (Very Large Container Ships) which would be powered by methanol.
Each vessel will be equipped with a dual-fuel engine that can run on methanol and will measure in at 348-metres in length, 54-metres width, and a depth of 33-metres. At the time, the expectation was that deliveries to Maersk would begin by 2024.
The methanol used to power these vessels would be “carbon neutral,” produced either from biogas and/or biomass, or from renewable hydrogen combined with captured carbon dioxide.
“The time to act is now, if we are to solve shipping’s climate challenge,” said Soren Skou, CEO of A.P. Moller – Maersk, speaking in August.
“This order proves that carbon neutral solutions are available today across container vessel segments and that Maersk stands committed to the growing number of our customers who look to decarbonise their supply chains. Further, this is a firm signal to fuel producers that sizable market demand for the green fuels of the future is emerging at speed.”
Recent reports, however, have confirmed that Maersk has increased its order to 12 vessels, to be delivered between 2024 and 2025 in a move that the company expects will reduce its annual CO2 emissions by 1.5 million tonnes.
Designs of the methanol-powered container ships were revealed in December and will allow for a 20% improved energy efficiency per transported container when compared to the industry average for a vessel of a similar size.
Crew accommodation and the bridge will be located at the bow of the vessel – the forward part of the vessel – so as to increase container capacity, while the funnel, or smokestack/chimney will be constrained to one side of the vessel, providing further cargo space. Maersk also expects that the separation of accommodation from funnel will help improve efficiency when at port.
The next step for Maersk, as HHI proceeds with construction of the vessels, is securing enough green methanol supply to fuel the vessels.
Known to be the most energy-dense of potential clean shipping fuels, the green methanol needed will either be biomethanol or so-called e-methanol – electro-methanol produced from green hydrogen made using renewable electricity.
Speaking to TradeWinds, Berit Hinnemann, Maersk’s head of decarbonisation business development, who has been placed in charge of sourcing the necessary methanol, explained that both types of methanol will be needed.
“We see that biomethanol may be faster to scale on the shorter and medium-term, and e-methanol will probably scale afterwards,” Hinnemann said.
“We are engaging with project developers globally, and in general what we see is we will need close collaboration across the value chain.”
Joshua S. Hill is a Melbourne-based journalist who has been writing about climate change, clean technology, and electric vehicles for over 15 years. He has been reporting on electric vehicles and clean technologies for Renew Economy and The Driven since 2012. His preferred mode of transport is his feet.