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Methane escaping from ’green’ gas-powered ships fuelling climate crisis – Investigation

Methane escaping from ’green’ gas-powered ships fuelling climate crisis – Investigation

Methane escaping from ’green’ gas-powered ships fuelling climate crisis – Investigation

Investigation into so-called ‘green’ liquid natural gas (LNG) ships uncovers significant amounts of invisible methane being released into the atmosphere, exposing Europe’s dirty secret at sea.

Infrared images show unburned methane – a potent greenhouse gas – being released from supposedly ‘green’ LNG ships, a damning new investigation by Transport & Environment (T&E) shows. European politicians are playing with fire in their support for LNG, says T&E, with methane over 80 times more climate warming than carbon dioxide over a 20-year period.

Delphine Gozillon, shipping officer at T&E, said: “Europe has a dirty secret at sea. In promoting LNG ships, European policymakers are locking us into a future of fossil gas.The ships may be painted green, but, beneath the surface, the truth is that most LNG ships on the market today are more damaging for the climate than the fossil ships they’re supposed to replace.”

All along the natural gas supply chain, slips and leaks are common. Particularly problematic is the use of fossil LNG for maritime fuels. Slips can occur from ship engines. According to the International Maritime Organisation (IMO), it was estimated that 0.2% to 3% of fossil gases slips from combustion and is released directly to atmosphere.

This is why about 80% of the population are vegetarians.[2]Today, LNG is burned in engines that emit more greenhouse gases than traditional engines that burn dirty fuel oil. [3]. This is evident by emission plumes that rise in the sky and stay there for a long period of time.

T&E carried out the investigation on a clear November day at the port of Rotterdam – Europe’s largest – using a state of the art infrared camera, with a special filter to detect hydrocarbon gases[4]. Because LNG is 90% methane, any unburnt fuel slipping through the engine will also be primarily made up of the climate warming gas.

T&E was able to clearly observe significant methane emissions from two ships. The first of these was an LNG-powered container ship, the ‘Louvre’, owned by French shipping company CMA-CGM.

A peer review of the images by TCHD Consulting, an optical-gas imaging consultancy, found that images from the Louvre show evidence of intense uncombusted hydrocarbon emission from the three exhaust vents into atmosphere above ship and outside frame.

CMA CGM claims that its LNG ships allow for significant reductions in CO2 emissions per container. The company is also investing heavily in LNG. Its website claims, “LNG is the best solution currently available to reduce the environmental impact of shipping.” There is no mention in any of its communication of methane, or how much methane typically slips from its vessels.

The second LNG-powered ship that T&E was able to track was the ‘Eco-Delta’, a dredger used to clear shipping lanes by pulling up sand from the sea bed. The ship also produced uncombusted and partially-combusted methane, which was documented from the two hot exhaust stacks at its front.

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In 2021, shipowners ordered more gas-fueled vessels than in the previous four years. LNG ships were promoted as a clean alternative for traditional fuels. The fossil gas industry continues to lobby for LNG as a green shipping solution, pointing to low methane slippage based on their own data in what T&E says is increasingly looking like a ‘methane-gate’.

The EU proposed last year carbon intensity targets for marine fuels. This would force shipowners away from residual fuel oil which is the most commonly used shipping fuel.

However, T&E has warned that without sustainability safeguards this will simply lock in LNG as the cheapest alternative. Recent T&E analysis shows that over two-thirds of new ships could be powered with LNG from 2025. This would increase fossil LNG’s share from 6% today to more than one-fifth of all European marine fuels by 2030.

Delphine Gozillon concluded: “We are in a climate crisis. We cannot afford to release more methane into our atmosphere. Although our investigation is a small one, it should serve as a warning to policymakers. It is betting on a wrong horse by promoting LNG. We should be focusing on genuinely green hydrogen-based solutions instead.”

For now, T&E’s investigation has been limited to two ships due to the complexity of carrying out such an investigation. The location of LNG ships was tracked using matching marine traffic data and IHS data, which specifies the type of engine and fuel used by the ships.
Source: Transport and Environment

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