Wärtsilä's innovation uses ammonia fuel, a promising renewable alternative, to reduce emissions in the marine industry. Wärtsilä is building and testing vessel engines utilising different renewable fuels of which ammonia is a key player and what is more, Wärtsilä's innovation ensures fuel flexibility among renewable fuels and retrofitting current vessels. The innovation addresses the United Nations’ Sustainability Goals 7, 11, 12 and 13 and in 2020, the Innovation for Cool Earth Forum (ICEF) awarded Wärtsilä as one of the Top 10 innovation winners due to Wärtsilä’s development work in assessing future fuel capabilities for the shipping and energy sectors, and in particular for the company’s combustion tests using ammonia as fuel.
Angad Dev Roy
Hanken School of Economics
Wärtsilä started the development of ammonia engines around 2018. The project location is primarily in Vaasa, Finland. Ammonia is produced using hydrogen from water electrolysis and nitrogen separated from the air. At present, ammonia production mainly happens through electricity produced from fossil fuels (‘grey ammonia’). ‘Green ammonia’ refers to ammonia produced using renewable energy, such as solar or wind power. Storage and transportation of ammonia is relatively easy.
Wärtsilä is developing engines that can utilise ammonia as a fuel along with other fuels, such as hydrogen, biofuels, methanol. This means that there are multiple fuel options for different vessels. ‘Green ammonia' is expected to play an important role in a vessel's fuel flexibility.
Ammonia fuel in vessels can assist with climate action (SDG 13) as 'green ammonia' is a clean fuel. It encourages responsible consumption (SDG 12) and has the potential to create sustainable communities (SDG 11). Challenges of producing ‘green ammonia’ at scale and safety concerns of the fuel remain.
Mr. Mikael Wideskog is inspired by Wärtsilä investing in engines utilising sustainable fuels such as ammonia: "This project is something to be proud about; there are not many companies (like Wärtsilä) that are investing the amount of effort and money in such projects." He recognises that the investment may not lead to monetary benefits in the short term.
Wärtsilä is motivated to develop ammonia engines to comply with international maritime regulations. The regulations aim to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the shipping industry by at least 50 % by 2050. Additionally, the European Union's (EU) “Fit for 55%” project aims to reduce carbon emissions by 55% till 2030 and have net-zero emissions by 2050.
Another significant inspiration for this project is the demand for sustainable solutions from consumers. Consumers increasingly expect sustainable solutions from their suppliers and stakeholders. “If companies do not invest in sustainable shipping options and technologies, the consumers will look for more sustainable alternatives,” mentioned Mr. Wideskog.Wärtsilä changed its aim a few years ago to a more sustainable direction. “The purpose changed five years ago [around 2016] from monetary benefits to serving society. The change and a clear purpose were welcomed by many employees.”
Mr. Wideskog’s long-standing interest in sustainability was also a factor for his involvement in the project. Likewise, many employees at Wärtsilä are inspired to work on meaningful projects that attempt to better the world.
The development of renewable fuels for the maritime industry is crucial because international shipping accounts for about 2.2% of all global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Shipping is also responsible for about 30% of the world's nitrogen oxide (NOx) pollution. Ammonia fuels have immense potential as a sustainable source of energy to reduce emissions. If the proportion of ammonia in a fuel mixture is increased, then the NOx emissions can drop by 50%.
In the short term, the innovation will provide new job opportunities related to the development of sustainable fuels. In the long-term, better infrastructure and availability of clean fuels can reduce emissions. For this, 'green ammonia' production needs to increase.
With this innovation, it is possible to tackle several SDGs. Affordable and Clean Energy (SDG 7), Industry, Innovation, and Infrastructure (SDG 9), Climate Action (SDG 13), Sustainable Cities and Communities (SDG 11). It is also a solution for Responsible Consumption and Production (SDG 12).
“We need to give the signals that we are working on these new technologies and new solutions”, says Mr. Wideskog. According to him, the business needs these solutions to compete in the emerging market that will substitute fossil fuels in the future. Wärtsilä's customers need the technology to ensure their assets are future-proofed by vessel upgrades. Wärtsilä strives to be the provider with complete solutions for 'future fuels'. About 100 Wärtsilä employees are working on this project.
A first deal for ammonia-fuelled combustion engines has been finalised and initial discussions with other potential customers have started. As the development progresses, there is a need for volume deals to make the project cost-effective. The project has received significant monetary investment. In 2020 the project received six million euros investment.
Quarterly employee 'pulse reports' at Wärtsilä indicate that working on such meaningful projects has increased employee well-being and retention.
Utilising ammonia as a fuel would have an immense impact on the society and environment. With 'green ammonia' one can reduce the greenhouse emissions and mitigate climate change.
The overall quality of life will improve, especially for those living on small islands affected by climate change in the frontline. Additionally, many developing countries could benefit from renewable energy production, for instance, the expansion of solar electricity plants in developing countries to produce 'green ammonia'. In the short-term, projects utilising ammonia will provide more jobs. Opportunities for decent work and economic growth (SDG 8) will grow. In the long-term, options and availability of clean fuels will increase.
Mikael Wideskog, Director, Sustainable Fuels & Decarbonisation
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Business Website: https://www.wartsila.com
Year Founded: 1834
Number of Employees: 10000+
Wärtsilä is a global company with a leading position in smart technologies and lifecycle solutions for organisations in the energy and marine industry. It operates in over 70 countries around the globe and employs around 18,000 people. Wärtsilä focuses on maximising the environmental and economic effectiveness of the vessels and the power plants of its customers.