Maritime Carbon Capture- An Alternative to Alternative Fuels

So, we are somewhere in between the now concluded COP26 events in Glasgow, and the soon to be held (the word “upcoming” is a little too played) International Maritime Organization (IMO) Maritime Environmental Protection Committee (MEPC) meetings. The latter, officially MEPC77, will be held next week- virtually (I am an early riser, usually, so the 6am start time on the U.S. East Coast is not a deal breaker in any way). Shipping was out in force, or so it seemed, at COP26; after all, the Clyde River was a leading shipbuilding area and maritime hub not that long ago.

Closer to home, I attended an online event on the subject of “Carbon capture”, and in particular, got some very good insights into a big effort in Louisiana, which I consider “…the petrochemical capital of the States” (folks from Texas might disagree, but whatever…) to incentivize industrial facilities to invest in carbon capture. There are many nuances here, including a U.S. Federal tax incentive called 45Q (lots of learning to be done here, admittedly), but it seems like a positive story. My “cargo is king” mantra (with the complement “cargo pays the freight”) loomed large as I absorbed the webinar content and did a little research on what cargo interests are toying with carbon capture schemes in connection with their land-side facilities was that a number of them are also involved in seaborne transportation (mainly of fossil fuels and petrochemicals). Let me state the obvious- get the big name ESG-fueled First Mover cargo interests to also investigate (and pay for) seaborne carbon capture/ storage initiatives.

I don’t claim to be a tech expert; readers will likely know more than me, but- in doing a little research, I discovered at least one seagoing carbon capture project, in the Antwerp- Rotterdam- Amsterdam (ARA) region. Here carbon dioxide pulled out of the vessel’s actual emission stream (part of larger emissions capture kit) is then used to charge a “carbon dioxide battery”, as well as being supplied (after storage) to shoreside industries that consume the carbon dioxide. Amidst a mid 2021 flurry of announcements, there also seemed to be an experiment underway in the Japanese market, deploying a scrubber-like device that could pull out carbon dioxide in addition to the oxides of sulfur (the infamous “SoX”).

There has been a vast cache of chatter and pronouncements on the difficulties, and the sheer expenses ($Trillions, with a big “T”) in getting to alternative fuels. Carbon capture, which has been used on the landside, may be a part of the decades-long “bridge” towards decarbonized shipping. On the Louisiana webinar, there were various accusations about carbon capture being a scheme for  “paying to pollute”; I don’t see it that way. The technology is not without costs, and the mechanics of payments could really be subsumed into the same multi-trillion dollar mechanisms under discussion for alternative fuels.

And also, it seems, there could be a market out there for transporting the “captured carbon” at sea; again, it’s something for the naval architects to develop further, and would go in the same bucket of discussions for transporting ammonia, methanol and other maritime fuels-of-the-future candidates from production points to bunkering hubs. Save that for another article.