A UK based firm Core Power is working on a concept for an offshore facility that combines advanced nuclear power (molten salt reactor) with an offshore ammonia production facility, which would enable affordable production of green ammonia for shipping.
In a report titled “The New Alchemy” it promotes the business case for production of ammonia as a green fuel for international shipping which could be produced in floating nuclear power plants. A Q&A below has additional details.
Core Power says that its modeling showed that with current technology it is possible to produce one million tonnes of ammonia per year using 1.2 GW of electric power, on each nuclear powered floating production platform, reducing to 0.9 GW by 2050.
This is the equivalent of 440,000 tonnes of very low sulphur fuel oil (VLFSO), and it would allow the decarbonization of a considerable number of ocean going cargo vessels.
“Our concept design is for an offshore facility partnering advanced nuclear power with an offshore ammonia production facility, which will create green ammonia from abundant seawater and air. No emissions would come from the plant,” says Dr Rory Megginson, CORE POWER’s Director of Analytics.
According to Core Power, moving the reactors to sea will allow for a substantial reduction in costs due to the lack of a need for expensive [land based] civil engineering as well as opening up the possibility of shipyard construction of these plants.
“Offshore advanced atomic power shows the best results at the lowest cost for large scale, secure, and truly green ammonia production,” says Megginson.
According to Core Power, the flexible nature of these systems will mean it will also be possible to provide a mixture of electricity, hydrogen, and ammonia for other applications, including chemical manufacturing and aviation.
Dr. Megginson added, “The production of green ammonia on floating platforms at sea, using advanced nuclear power, would be superior to both productions from renewables and non-marine atomic systems. Atomic power has the highest capacity factor of any power generation method – whereas intermittent renewables, notably wind and solar, have the lowest. This reliability and dispatchability makes advanced atomic power the ideal power source for e-fuel production.”
Conceptual rendition of a floating NH3 plant. Image: Electric Power Research Institute
The production of green ammonia is a key component of the decarbonization plans for international shipping. Core Power’s view of the market for its plans is that a very significant portion of the world fleet (17,000 ships +/-) may find green ammonia to be a viable pathway to zero emissions. The very largest cargo vessels may not be part of this market.
“The decarbonization of other difficult to abate sectors for decarbonization such as chemical and steel manufacture as well as aviation will also require the manufacture of a substantial amount of these green e-fuels, Core Power said.
Q&A with Core Power
Core Power, which is based in the UK, conducted a Q&A interview by email with Tobi Menzies, Director, Business Development, about the project. The questions and answers have been lightly edited.
1. What size ships (profile) are most suitable for using this type of fuel?
While the very largest ships are unlikely to find economic value in using hydrogen derived green fuels, and will be more suitable for use with direct atomic power for electric propulsion, a very significant portion of the world fleet of smaller ships, those of sub-15 MW propulsion power, may find green ammonia to be a viable pathway to zero-emissions.
2. What would it cost to retrofit a ship with a conventional marine diesel engine to burn NH3?
Marine engine makers are currently studying the modifications needed for their engines to run on ammonia as well as on other synthetic fuels. The modifications are seen as limited in scope and can be cost effective. However, the biggest difference is the much larger tankage needed by ammonia and methanol, all other things being equal. The cost of updating marine engines and retrofits [of marine propulsion systems] are in any case beyond the scope of Core Power report and activities.
3. How will you get the fuel to the ships – pipelines, truck, barge, etc.?
CORE POWER envisions bunker barges and shuttle tankers transferring the fuel from the production site to ships or to shore. Floating site-to-shore pipelines to serve industrial clusters are also a possibility.
4. What will be the economics of using NH3 v. diesel for ship owners per nautical mile?
Using Marinised Atomic Power it should be possible to produce the equivalent of ammonia equal in energy to 1 tonne of VLFSO for $2,100. This is higher than the equivalent amount of VLFSO however is much cheaper than other options for the production of green ammonia while also being truly ‘green.’
5. Does the firm have a demonstration project lined up with a customer to ground truth the use of NH3 to power ships?
CORE POWER is in discussions for both a land-based and a subsequent offshore demonstration project for the technology intended also to feature green hydrogen and green ammonia production, and not only for use on ships. For their part, marine engine makers and shipowners are currently very much engaged on demonstrating the use of green ammonia and green methanol as marine fuels.
6. How much NH3 can a Core Power reactor produce in a day, week, year?
CORE POWER’s design Is based on a number of modular reactors totaling about 1.2 GW electric power, which results in the production of about 1 million tons of green ammonia per annum.
7. How much NH3 would be needed to power a typical ship on a round trip voyage from two typical ports for that ship
CORE POWER have modelled a typical round trip between Houston and Rotterdam for a sub-15 MW propulsion power chemical tanker would require 1,980 tonnes of ammonia plus 86 tonnes of VLFSO for pilot fuel.
8. How many of these types of ships could be powered by NH3 in a year?
For the above journey a CORE POWER facility could fuel 500 vessels completing the Houston Rotterdam Round Trip per annum.
9. What is the potential size of the market for ships to burn NH3, e.g, number of current ships, number of ships that might convert?
The worldwide fleet is composed of more than 100,000 vessels which will have to transition to low or zero carbon fuels. At least 80,000 of them are believed to be good candidates for zero carbon electric fuels. This is in addition to small cargo ships engaged in national and coastal navigation, fishing vessels, small ferries and tugs, etc.
10. Does the firm have any customers or MOUs for NH3 at this time?
CORE POWER focuses on advanced marine reactors. Not solely on the production of NH3. That said, CORE POWER would like to emphasize that there is not a sharp dividing line between the CORE POWER reactor development effort and work by an entirely separate set of firms who would use the reactor to manufacture NH3.
CORE POWER is actively working with partners across all parts of the NH3 production chain right through to offtakers. CORE POWER aims to also be an integral part in the balance of any synthetic fuel production facility, recognizing that a project on this scale, with large CAPEX and a certain amount of shipyard complexity, will need to be handled and financed most likely by a consortium across a range of stakeholders.
We expect the market for green electro fuels to grow over the next decade as a result of both tighter emissions regulation and market-based-measures such as carbon taxation. We are currently engaging with major stakeholders and partners to develop the design further and to optimize it.
The future ‘landscape’ for how electrofuels in 2030 (for example) are produced, and then supplied to market is not fully – or even partially – formed. We see that a ‘new breed’ of physical bunker supplier could emerge, possibly even including the rise of certain market ‘prosumers’ who both produce and consume the same product – we’re working hard on many levels to identify the likely actors as part of our product promotion efforts.
11. To what extent is there demand from the shipping industry for ammonia to fuel ships that would create a market pull on plants like Core Power to produce it?
The shipping industry is under extreme pressure to decarbonize: the International Maritime Organization (IMO) has set binding decarbonization targets and the leading players in the industry have in many cases committed to exceeding these.
The industry is currently stuck in something of a chicken-and-egg scenario where the owners are reluctant to commit to ships burning these ‘future fuels’ before there is certainty of supply, while supply is not yet available due to cost, scale and infrastructure issues.
Things look better on the engine-manufacturer side, as the main equipment makers are developing engines and retrofits in a forward-thinking manner. Core Power, by developing the design of these facility, is indicating to the industry the most cost effective and efficient way to produce green electro fuels, creating the market for synthetic bunkers for small and medium size ships.
Editor Note: IMO has adopted mandatory measures to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases from international shipping, under IMO’s pollution prevention treaty (MARPOL) – the Energy Efficiency Design Index (EEDI) mandatory for new ships, and the Ship Energy Efficiency Management Plan (SEEMP). In 2021 International Maritime Organization set up a web portal that compiles maritime transport decarbonization initiatives for collaboration and cooperation.
About Core Power
Core Power is a startup that is bullish on the prospects for nuclear-powered ocean transportation. In November 2021 the Department of Energy and Southern Company established a cooperative agreement to design, construct and operate the Molten Chloride Reactor Experiment. The small reactor experiment, selected for funding under DOE’s Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program (ARDP), will advance US TerraPower’s Molten Chloride Fast Reactor (MCFR).
Southern Company research and development (R&D) will lead the effort in a collaboration that includes TerraPower, Idaho National Laboratory (INL), Core Power, Orano Federal Services, the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) and 3M Company. The team’s ongoing alliance with DOE’s Office of Nuclear Energy through the ARDP is essential for delivering this key technology and will be supported by a five-year, $170 million cost-shared funding agreement.
Based in London, England, Core Power is the only non-U.S. member of the team, which includes TerraPower, Southern Company, and Orano USA. As a marine engineering firm, Core Power says that it offers its ARDP partners “access to pent-up demand from a market with real customers.”
Core Power believes that MSRs could be used for propulsion or electricity generation to decarbonize the world’s commercial shipping fleet in addition to producing ammonia as fuel for that fleet. CORE POWER is developing what will become a licensed, type-approved advanced nuclear-electric power package for ocean transportation and heavy industry.
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