According to Bunkerspot, a new report from Alfa Laval, Hafnia, Haldor Topsoe, Vestas, and Siemens Gamesa has described ammonia as ‘an attractive and low-risk choice of marine fuel’ both in the transition phase towards a more sustainable shipping industry and as a long-term solution’.
Ammonfuel – an industrial view of ammonia as a marine fuel looks at the process of turning ammonia into marine fuel – including both conventional and future ‘green ammonia’ production – as well as safety considerations, the logistics of providing ammonia, and the application on board the ship.
The report also focuses on the cost, availability and ‘technical readiness’ of using ammonia as a marine fuel, as well as its significance in help to reduce ships’ emissions.
The report said that the energy cost of conventional ammonia is ‘similar to’ the energy cost of very low sulphur fuel oil (VLSFO) but added that, in the future, green ammonia will be ‘the most economic carbon neutral fuel’. It also concluded that the ‘design for ammonia and VLSFO dual fuel operation leaves maximum flexibility to minimize fuel costs and meet future regulations and requirements’.
While ammonia could be powering the world’s ships in the future; As a compound, Ammonium Nitrate commonly used as fertilizer, and as industrial explosives, it’s considered relatively safe if handled properly, but it has proved lethal. Due to recent events, under the scrutiny of media and governments due to the recent catastrophe at the Beirut Port.
Texas Ammonium Ship explosion
In one of the world’s deadliest industrial accidents, 567 people were killed in Texas in 1947 when 2,300 tonnes of ammonium nitrate detonated aboard a ship.
“Beirut, like Texas, is a wake-up call. We should learn from these catastrophes and make sure they don’t happen again,” said Stewart Walker, of the school of Forensic, Environmental and Analytical Chemistry at Flinders University in Adelaide.
Some countries have banned ammonium nitrate as a fertilizer because it has been used by militant bomb-makers and since Tuesday’s blast, some governments have been urged to relocate stockpiles.
Chris Owen, a U.N. explosives adviser, said few countries make ammonium nitrate but many use it, often importing it by sea. Since many ports have had cities develop around them, large quantities are moving through cities on a regular basis. “If it’s managed properly, it’s no risk,” Owen said.
In terms of safety, experts say, quantity, ventilation, and proximity to flammables are critical, as is the distance from population centres.
Anger has been mounting in Lebanon at the authorities for allowing huge quantities of the chemical to be stored near a residential area for years in unsafe conditions.
The United Nations has issued guidelines on safe storage and transportation but regulations vary from country to country, experts said.
Global variation on regulation is a concern, said Julia Meehan, the managing editor of ICIS Fertilizers, a trade publication. “There’s no global body that looks across it, it’s country to country or regional,” said Meehan. “It can even differ from port to port.”
One expert, who asked not to be identified, said political instability was a major factor in enforcement. He cited Lebanon, Syria, Afghanistan and South American countries. “If the country is at war, or struggling with an insurgency or other problems, they have other issues to deal with,” he said.
Global data on the storage is spotty, said Hans Reuvers, a German-based expert on ammonium nitrate and fertilizer technology and executive committee member at the Ammonium Nitrate/Nitric Acid Producers Study Group (ANNA).
Germany only allows 25 tonnes of pure ammonium nitrate to be stored in one place, Reuvers said. France toughened its regulations after a 2001 explosion in Toulouse killed 31 people.
“You have to store it in non-flammable bins, keep them far away from flammable materials. There are similar regulations across Europe as well as in East Asia,” Reuvers said.
Worldwide trade in ammonium nitrate in 2018 was worth $2.14 billion, with Russia the leading exporter, according to the Observatory of Economic Complexity, and Brazil the largest importer.
The United States and Europe are the leading consumers of ammonium nitrates, according to London-based IHS Markit, accounting for just over half of global consumption in 2019.
Countries with large stockpiles tend to have large mining or industrial agriculture industries, said Roger Read, of the School of Chemistry at the University of New South Wales.
“Those would tend to be most large, industrialized countries – Britain, the U.S., Russia, China – as well as India and other smaller countries in Europe,” Read said.
The United States in 2019 eased chemical-safety regulations implemented after a deadly ammonium nitrate blast in 2013. The move cut costly regulations but still kept safety measures, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Rick Engler, a former member of the U.S. Chemical Safety Board, said the EPA should add ammonium nitrate to a list of regulated chemicals needing increased oversight, calling present U.S. regulations “thoroughly inadequate.”
The United States does not maintain a public database on the locations of ammonium nitrate, meaning people do not know if they live near one, said Elena Craft, of the Environmental Defense Fund advocacy group.
“There are a lot of unknowns about how much of this material exists and where,” Craft said. “You don’t know the magnitude of that risk because of the lack of information that’s available.”
Ammonium can be used for the right purposes and safe if handled correctly. Nonetheless, as the compound, Ammonium Nitrate demands safer handling and storage. Due to the lack of clear safety enforcement regulations and guidelines by governments, developing nations stand under imminent danger handling it as cargo.