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Professor Lynn Loo: Learning by doing

Professor Lynn Loo, CEO, Global Centre for Maritime Decarbonisation seeks to accelerate shipping’s green transition with pilots and trials of alternative fuels and technologies

26 July 2023
Professor Lynn Loo, CEO, Global Centre for Maritime Decarbonisation.
Credit: Global Centre for Maritime Decarbonisation

The Global Centre for Maritime Decarbonisation (GCMD) was founded on 1 August 2021 and you joined that year as its first CEO. What has been the most pressing aspect to your work and what continues to be your core goals with the centre going forward?

It was important for me to map the kinds of decarbonisation activities that were already going on in the maritime space, to figure out how we can add value and not duplicate efforts. The one piece that was missing was pilots and trials; putting solutions on ships, on water and on land. In our goal to learn by doing, we can address the hurdles that we come across and lower the barriers for adoption broadly across the market. If a pilot or solution fails, those learnings are equally important for refining future efforts, and we will share those with industry too. 

How does your background as a professor in chemical and biological engineering at Princeton feed into the work you are doing at GCMD? 

I’d like to think that I’m bringing some academic rigour to the table in how we are scoping out projects: making sure we’re asking the right questions and that our hypothesis is really addressing the pain points of the sector.

For example, 60% of ships on the water today belong to owners that have 20 vessels or less in their fleet. These shipowners have different pain points than the big guys. In our recent Global Maritime Decarbonisation Industry Survey which we completed with Boston Consulting Group, we found that smaller shipowners lack context and understanding of the technologies available to them to help them reduce their GHG emissions. This is in contrast to the large shipowners who are already adopting solutions considered “low hanging fruits” and are more concerned with technology maturity and price gaps. This shows us how we need to differentiate our interventions. 

Can you tell us about some of those interventions and the practical work you’re doing to accelerate industry-wide adoption of alternative fuels? 

In February we completed a trial of two supply chains of sustainable biofuels to help resolve issues of traceability and transparency. The consortium we led did this by adding a tracer in the biofuels at their production sites outside Singapore, and tracking the labelled biofuels to Singapore where they were blended and bunkered. Testing was also conducted until the biofuels were consumed onboard vessels. Tracking it across the supply chain supports our development of an assurance framework on the quality, quantity and source of fuel, which allows us to accurately account for the GHG emissions abated.

In April this year we also completed our ammonia bunkering safety study in partnership with DNV, Surbana Jurong and Singapore Maritime Academy. The study commenced last year to define the safety and operational envelopes for an eventual bunkering pilot to be conducted within Singapore’s port limits. We chose Singapore for the study as it is population dense and sees more than a thousand ships a day, making the findings extendable to other ports around the world. We went to great lengths to do a coarse quantitative risk assessment to figure out safety distances and a reasonable flow rate to pilot ammonia bunkering. The safety distances came up to be 300-400 metres based on a flowrate of 700 cubic meters per hour, close to parameters for LNG bunkering in Singapore when those operations first started. Safety is of course a major concern to address, guidelines will need to be developed so we can bring the risks down to an “as low as reasonably practicable” (ALARP) level. As our next step, we are preparing for pilots entailing ammonia ship-to-ship cargo transfer (because ammonia-fuelled vessels are still being built) with like-minded partners, bringing a known operation into port limits to understand and define emergency response requirements.  

As you iron out challenges with alternative fuels, what do you see to be the best way for shipping to get its fair share of them when vying against other industries and countries?

Through our participation in ICS’ and IAPH’s Clean Energy Marine Hubs and seeing the work underway, it’s about maritime leaders being able to grease the wheels and move things faster. Engaging with stakeholders at platforms, such as the Clean Energy Ministerial and those with a line of sight on fuel production facilities, is vital so that more people understand shipping’s role in the energy transition and the collective efforts that are needed to help roll out green fuels globally.

As a solution-agnostic centre you are not just focusing on fuels. What kinds of pilots are you running for more nascent technologies?

GCMD is working with six other partners, including Oil and Gas Climate Initiative (OGCI), Stena Bulk, Alfa Laval, the Netherlands Organization for Applied Scientific Research (TNO), Deltamarin Ltd and ABS to demonstrate the feasibility of using carbon capture onboard a vessel with a goal to accelerate deployment of the technology in the next five years. 

There have been pilot projects that focus on proving the capture technology; our pilot differs from these as it aims to address solution adoption from end to end. Once you have figured out and demonstrated that the capture technology works, you need to have the ability to sequester or reduce CO2 emissions into the environment. But there currently doesn’t exist guidelines for offloading of captured liquefied CO2. So the fate of the CO2 is in question. We are working with Lloyd’s Register on how one would offload liquefied CO2 from a technical and operational perspective. If CCS is going to be a viable option, you will need to not only offload it but identify an offtaker – will it be buried underground? Will someone take that waste CO2 and use it as feedstock? It is all about providing clarity for the adoption of decarbonisation technologies. 

And while shipping waits for technologies to mature or be proved and made more widely available, what practical things can leaders be doing to green their operations?

It’s important to remember this isn’t a sharp transition, it is going to take multiple decades. Until alternative fuels are more widely available and at lower costs, we should look at nearer-term solutions and technologies that are available to us now. I would say that despite its challenges, as a drop-in fuel, biofuels has a role to play in helping to lower GHG emissions today. So does LNG, provided that we take a holistic approach to mitigate leaks and slips during its lifecycle. 

Shipping can also use technical measures as simple as routine hull cleaning, coating hulls in low friction paints and others more advanced, such as wind propulsion. While these measures will help with efficiency gains today, they can also help us when shipping transitions to future fuels, such as ammonia or methanol. These fuels are significantly lower in energy density compared to fuel oils today, so improving energy efficiency to reduce fuel consumption will be all the more important.

Finally, from your time working in Singapore, what are your views on the need for decarbonisation being approached with just transition considerations in mind?

Depending on where you sit, the challenges of the energy transition can look very different. Yet, we tend to apply a homogeneous Western lens to the challenges of the energy transition around the world. Speaking from Singapore, where GCMD is based, renewable resources are limited, meaning we would need to import green electrons and green molecules in order to decarbonise the economy. From an energy security perspective, we cannot afford to rely on a single source. The local context is important, and different yardsticks need to be applied for measuring various decarbonisation efforts that are taking place at different places.