The path to 2050: what shipowners need to make the switch to e-fuels

An image of a container ship to highlight implementation of e-fuels in shipping
A recent survey from Accelleron on e-fuels in the maritime industry uncovered the thoughts of key decision makers, highlighting an industry that’s keen to welcome e-fuels as a route to decarbonization. We look at what the industry needs to make the switch a reality.

We’ve previously highlighted the results of Accelleron’s e-fuels survey, discovering an industry that’s keen to embrace e-fuels as a route to decarbonization, and we’ve also discussed what key decision makers in the industry see as the biggest challenges and milestones. How can the industry overcome these challenges and improve the availability of e-fuels, however? 

This was a question the survey also focussed on, with some insightful results. For example, more than half of the respondents highlighted a need for government incentives and subsidies for the production of e-fuels, along with the development of a corresponding infrastructure for the production and distribution, as suitable measures for improving availability.

Perhaps surprisingly, the percentages for other responses were also fairly similar across the board. While 55% prioritized the creation of infrastructure for the production and distribution of e-fuels to improve availability, for example, 49% highlighted the need for government funding for research and development, with 48% highlighting a required improvement in production technologies and increase in efficiency.

Other options were also popular, with 40% highlighting the need for an improvement in the legal framework, such as a higher emissions levy or tax on fossil fuels (know as the level-playing field approach), with 37% flagging a requirement for international collaboration and agreements concerning the joint use of e-fuels.

According to the survey, 47% of shipping companies and ship operators are currently focussing primarily on internal training to prepare for the use of e-fuels. More than four out of ten (41%) of those surveyed are seeking strategic partnerships with e-fuel suppliers, and one-third (36%) are planning the appropriate technical retrofitting of their current ships.

There are plenty of potential options out there when it comes to e-fuels. As Christoph Rofka, Accelleron’s President of Medium, Low Speed & Rail, explains, we’ve already seen ship owners and operators turn to a range of alternative fuels, including methanol and hydrogen for short-haul journeys, and we’re particularly excited by the first green ammonia projects, expected to be delivered after 2025.

Delving deeper into the numbers, 37% of respondents are seeking clarity from port operators around the relevant infrastructure for refuelling, with 27% investing in research and development in the area of e-fuels. 

When it comes to moving forward with decarbonization in the shipping industry in the medium term, the majority of the companies surveyed (60%) anticipate retrofitting existing ships to use alternative fuels. While only 16% of owners are currently ordering new, future-fuel-ready ships. From a longer-term perspective, though, purchasing new ships is seen as the best strategy by 64%. 

Unsurprisingly, money plays a large part in overcoming any technical challenges, and respondents working for companies with a higher annual turnover naturally see the technical complexity as less problematic. 

Only time will tell which of these solutions will prove the greatest driver in the adoption of e-fuels, but the long-term outlook looks positive, at least according to the survey’s respondents: 95% of respondents anticipate a good to very good availability of e-fuels by 2050. 

Image credit: Shutterstock/Alex Kolokythas Photography