The Finnish technology group has carried out combustion trials using ammonia to assess its potential to serve as ship fuel in the near future.
In detail, ammonia has been 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," Kaj Portin, General Manager, Fuel & Operational Flexibility, Wärtsilä Marine, commented.
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. Burning ammonia could also lead to higher nitrogen oxides (NOX) emissions unless controlled either by aftertreatment or by optimising the combustion process.
A regulatory framework and class rules will need to be developed for its use as a marine fuel, too.
Ammonia is currently mainly derived from fossil sources, so in order to make it climate-friendly, it'll have to be produced with the use of electricity from renewable sources.
Wärtsilä aims to develop a complete ammonia fuel solution comprising engines, fuel supply, and storage. The company is working with ship owners, shipbuilders, classification societies, and fuel suppliers to learn more about system and safety requirements, as well as fuel composition, emissions, and efficiency. As such, Wärtsilä is 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.
At the same time, Wärtsilä is investigating several other alternatives, including synthetic methane, hydrogen, and methanol, with a view to providing complete 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 liquefied natural gas - from fossil, biomass, or synthetic sources - while diesel engines can run on liquid biofuels, biodiesel, or e-diesel," the company highlighted in a press release.
"Wärtsilä has extensive experience in converting engines to other fuels, including diesel to dual-fuel, as well as engines capable of burning methanol and volatile organic compounds from crude oil cargoes. The modularity of modern engines means that conversions can be made with a very limited exchange of components. Wärtsilä's investment in modular engines and in storage and supply systems will enable shipping's transition from current fossil fuels to bio- and synthetic fuels," the company added.