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Ammonia-fueled tanker coalition gains new members; now called The Castor Initiative; first tanker by 2025

Little more than a year after a Joint Development Project (JDP) to develop an ammonia-fueled tanker design was launched by LR, MISC Berhad, MAN Energy Solutions and Samsung Heavy Industries (SHI), the partners have been joined by Yara International ASA, a giant Norwegian chemicals company and major ammonia producer, and the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA). The JDP is now named “The Castor Initiative”.

The naming is significant. Castor is the second-brightest star in the Gemini constellation, but actually consists of six stars which appear as one. In a webinar hosted by Randall Krantz, a Senior Project Adviser at the Getting to Zero Coalition, the partners revealed that they are on track to design, build, and commission the world’s first ammonia-fueled tanker by 2025.

Since the project began in January 2020, LR has made significant progress in early safety appraisals and research into the development of suitable fuel storage and supply systems, and the necessary risk assessments that will be required.

MAN has made considerable progress in identifying the engineering parameters that will need to be adapted to use ammonia as a fuel in an internal combustion engine. Brian Østergaard Sørensen, a MAN Vice President and Head of Research & Development into two-stroke engines, confirmed that the technology is available and ammonia in an interesting fuel option.

Conceding that there are certainly safety challenges relating to its use as a marine fuel, he said that the chemical is relatively easy to handle, already widely shipped by sea and well-known in the industry.

SHI is already working on the design of a tanker and will build the vessel when the time comes. The shipbuilder’s Vice President of Shipbuilding & Drilling Sales Engineering, Haeki Jang, emphasised the importance of a first demonstrator vessel as a means of minimizing uncertainty. The project, he said, was essential to identify challenges along the way.

MISC will own and operate the tanker. The Group’s President and Chief Executive, Yee Yang Chien, highlighted the fact that the project involves different stakeholders with a common goal. The collaboration is encouraging, he said, because the industry needs “multiple parallel initiatives” like this.

The partners emphasised the importance of the new members. With Yara International, the six-party collaboration now includes one of the world’s largest ammonia producers and a pioneer in the development of green ammonia, which is produced without using any carbon-related energy.

Rob Stevens, the company’s Vice President of Ammonia Energy and Shipping, joined the webinar after Yara’s involvement had been announced. “Ammonia can be an enabler in the energy transition and especially towards zero-emission shipping,” he declared.

The company has been producing fertilizers using renewable energy for many decades, he said, and has successfully produced green ammonia in the past. The company plans to re-start green ammonia production, he said, and its experience in addressing the risk of emissions at its ammonia plants would contribute knowledge to the JDP.

Meanwhile, Singapore’s MPA will add its expertise to safety regulations relating to ammonia infrastructure and bunkering operations.

The partners recognize that even more collaboration is needed to complete the chain, not only in this project, but in shipping’s decarbonization process generally. MISC’s Yee Yang Chien welcomed the new participants but pointed out that shipping’s banks, financiers and customers also “need to join hands with us”.

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