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Brian Westenhaus

Brian Westenhaus

Brian is the editor of the popular energy technology site New Energy and Fuel. The site’s mission is to inform, stimulate, amuse and abuse the…

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Researchers Propose $2 Trillion Plan to Transform the Shipping Industry

  • Green ammonia is identified as a viable alternative to decarbonize more than 60% of global shipping, with a focus on the top 10 regional fuel ports.
  • An estimated cost of $2 trillion is needed to transition to a green ammonia fuel supply chain by 2050, with significant investments in Australia, Chile, California, North-West Africa, and the southern Arabian Peninsula.
  • This shift to green ammonia aligns with the International Maritime Organization's commitment to halve greenhouse gas emissions from shipping by 2050 and recent revisions for net-zero emissions.

Researchers at the University of Oxford have found that green ammonia could be used to fulfill the fuel demands of over 60% of global shipping by targeting just the top 10 regional fuel ports. That suggests that the fuel could be a viable option to help decarbonize international shipping by 2050.

The study report has been published in IOP Publishing’s journal Environmental Research: Infrastructure and Sustainability.

The researchers at the University of Oxford looked at the production costs of ammonia which are similar to very low sulfur fuels.

Their early estimate has a cost of about $2 trillion would be needed in a transition to a green ammonia fuel supply chain by 2050, primarily to finance supply infrastructure.

The study shows that the greatest investment need is in Australia, to supply the Asian markets, with large production clusters also predicted in Chile (to supply South America), California (to supply Western U.S.A.), North-West Africa (to meet European demand), and the southern Arabian Peninsula (to meet local demand and parts of south Asia).

90% of world’s physical goods trade is transported by ships which burn heavy fuel oil and emit toxic pollutants.

This accounts for nearly 3% of the global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. As a result of this, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) committed to decarbonizing international shipping in 2018, aiming to halve GHG emissions by 2050.

These targets have been recently revised to net zero emissions by 2050.

After investigating the viability of diesel vessel exhaust scrubbers, green ammonia, made by electrolyzing water with renewable electricity, was proposed as an alternative fuel source to quickly decarbonize the shipping industry.

However, historically there has been great uncertainty as to how and where to invest to create the necessary infrastructure to deliver an efficient, viable fuel supply chain.

René Bañares-Alcántara, Professor of Chemical Engineering in the Department of Engineering Science at the University of Oxford, said, “Shipping is one of the most challenging sectors to decarbonize because of the need for fuel with high energy density and the difficulty of coordinating different groups to produce, utilize and finance alternative (green) fuel supplies.”

To guide investors, the team at the University of Oxford developed a modeling framework to create viable scenarios for how to establish a global green ammonia fuel supply chain. The framework combines a fuel demand model, future trade scenarios and a spatial optimization model for green ammonia production, storage, and transport, to find the best locations to meet future demand for shipping fuel.

Professor Bañares-Alcántara continued, “The implications of this work are striking. Under the proposed model, current dependence upon oil-producing nations would be replaced by a more regionalized industry; green ammonia will be produced near the equator in countries with abundant land and high solar potential then transported to regional centers of shipping fuel demand.”


It all sounds quite like a great idea. It could even work. There would likely need to be governmental force applied and the attendant price increases to shipping the world’s goods.

One wonders, the production facilities would be built from a state of non existence. A full transport and storage system would need to be built, too. No one will build a ship until that is worked out.


Today the talk is $2 trillion. That might be right or perhaps half right. Fiat currency is depreciating at about 10% per year. With forcing – the costs will be far far higher.

And yet with a cost at or below heavy fuel oil there could be a shipping line ordering ships and guaranteeing ammonia takes at a known price for years out. That might be the trigger that starts it. The competitive advantage would assure a build out into the rest of the industry.

The idea of ammonia is sound, but the market does not exist. How the market is formed will have a huge effect of the price of about everything.

By Brian Westenhaus via New Energy and Fuel

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Leave a comment
  • Alex Ashton on January 14 2024 said:
    This is just another bogus plan to use hydrogen at scale for fuel. Ammonia may make sense a few decades from now, but until then it is a waste of time and money, and the shipping industry is voting with their wallets on METHANOL.
  • Bob Drakeford on January 15 2024 said:
    "Fiat currency is depreciating at about 10% per year." Which fiat currency?

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