New joint project to measure methane emission from LNG ships

On March 22, the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT) formally commences a new project, FUgitive Methane Emissions from Ships (FUMES), in collaboration with Danish-based Explicit ApS and the Netherlands Organization for Applied Scientific Research (TNO). Using in-stack continuous emissions monitoring, drones, and helicopters, the project will examine and quantify methane emissions from ships fueled by liquefied natural gas (LNG) under a variety of real-world operating conditions at a scale never before achieved.

Use of LNG as a marine fuel globally grew nearly 30% between 2012 and 2018 and LNG is becoming popular as a fuel for new cargo ships and cruise ships. This despite concerns about methane emissions which may dilute the potential GHG reduction benefits of using LNG compared to conventional fuels. 

The current literature on methane emissions from ships consists of only a small number of studies based on limited measurements taken on board or in a laboratory. 

“Obtaining these real-world data will help us to better understand the conditions under which methane emissions from LNG-fueled ships are high or low, and that’s important when considering ways to reduce the environmental impacts of shipping,” said Bryan Comer, Ph.D., marine program lead at the ICCT.

FUMES will assess emissions from ship engines and fugitive emissions from fuel tanks and cargo tanks. Methane “slip” from engines is related to the engine technology and the project will focus on emissions from low-pressure dual-fuel (LPDF) engines and high-pressure dual-fuel (HPDF) engines. 

“Improvements in engine design over recent years might not be fully captured in older studies, and so that’s another gap in the literature this project will help address,” said Robin Vermeulen, engine and emissions measurement specialist at TNO.

FUMES results are expected to include estimated methane (CH4) and nitrogen oxides (NOx) emission factors by engine type for the ships measured. Measurements will be taken in 2022 and the team will publish a peer-reviewed, publicly available white paper in 2023. 

“In addition to onboard measurements, the project will deploy both drones and helicopters to sample exhaust plumes from many more ships to provide broader insights into the factors that affect methane emissions. We will also use new drone-based technologies to quantify total fugitive methane emissions from ships, something which has never been done before,” said Bettina Knudsen, COO/CMO of Explicit ApS.

Methane’s 100-year global warming potential is 30 times stronger than the same amount of carbon dioxide (CO2), according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and its 20-year global warming potential is even more potent at 82.5 times stronger.

The FUMES project will be useful for a variety of policymakers, including at the International Maritime Organization and the European Union, as they consider ways to establish and enforce limits on methane emissions from LNG-fueled ships.

Photo credit: iStock/ Rex_Wholster

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