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Decarbonising Maritime Shipping in Africa: Hydrogen and Ammonia Could Hold the Key

The latest hydrogen reports make interesting reading for stakeholders in Africa’s economic and industrial development. It’s widely agreed that hydrogen fuels are needed to meet future transport sector demand and to achieve decarbonisation goals.

Shipping routes are critical to transport goods and energy and fuels to and from Africa between continents, but they’re also heavily used for transport between the 38 coastal countries of Africa itself.

Maritime transport for high volumes or large equipment between African countries can be quicker and more cost efficient than overland transportation. African cities and business centres are built around the ports, forming the major hubs and metropolitan regions of Africa. Africa’s population is expected to double from about 1 billion to between 2 and 2.5 billion towards 2050: demand for transportation of goods and fuels will increase by the same huge factor.

Hydrogen fuels will power decarbonization by 2035

“Deployment of all currently known technologies could make it possible to almost completely decarbonise maritime shipping by 2035,” according to the recent report by the OECD’s thinktank, the International Transport Forum. The report explains that CO2 free fuels such as ammonia, (liquid) hydrogen or Liquid Organic Hydrogen Carriers (LOHCs) can play a major role in decarbonizing shipping.

Similar studies from DNV GL, the European Federation for Transport and Environment, the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) and the United Nations International Maritime Organization (UN IMO) also highlight ammonia and (liquid) hydrogen as crucial fuels to meet decarbonization goals. The European Federation for Transport and Environment’s study concludes that a mix of alternative zero emission technologies including battery electric, but in particular liquid hydrogen and ammonia would cause the least additional strain on the broader energy system.

Infrastructure planning for African port fuelling

Maritime ships need to be refuelled in ports. To enable this, the industry will need to establish production of hydrogen and ammonia in or close to the ports, or to expand current facilities to meet increased demand for shipping fuel. The same fuel infrastructure could be used to power all port activities, from container handlers, forklifts, cranes, back-up power, (shunt) locomotives and the trucks used for onward overland distribution.

Tangible progress towards widespread hydrogen fuel adoption

There’s encouraging practical progress towards uptake of hydrogen-based green fuels in shipping. Programmes including the HyLaw project are addressing new requirements for hydrogen law, procedures and the removal of legal and administrative barriers to the deployment of fuel cells and hydrogen applications in the maritime sector.

Maritime transport solutions are also in development to carry the CO2 free fuels and energy between ports. Tanker transport of ammonia and oil between African countries and other continents is already widely used. Liquid hydrogen tankers are in development and should become available in the coming years. Using existing vessels to transport LOHCs should be possible even sooner, because they have similar properties to oils.

Beyond cargo: decarbonising passenger ships

As well as cargo shipping routes around Africa, there are also many ferry and cruise ship routes (not shown on the map below) which could be decarbonized. Several ferry projects in Norway, Scotland and California are in the last stages of development. Experience gained from these could be applied to African ferry routes, including those between Europe and North Africa on the Mediterranean Sea, between Dar es Salaam and Zanzibar, or on the Great Lakes of Africa.

*Disclaimer. The shipping routes are indicative and do not represent exact routing. Modifications and errors are reserved. Shipping routes from/to Europe/USA/Middle East/South America/Asia are excluded for visual purposes. The ports and routes are not exclusive but serve as an illustration.


Selection of sources - hydrogen in maritime applications

Selection of sources - shipping routes and ports:

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