Technology group Wärtsilä has launched its pioneering carbon-free hydrogen and ammonia test programme which will assess the fuels potential for viable in the company’s fuel-flexible combustion engines.

Tests have already been conducted on hydrogen ammonia blends, as well as pure hydrogen, with one test engine performing “very well” when running a fuel with 70% ammonia content at a typical marine load range.

In order to help with the company’s transition to a decarbonised future, Wärtsilä intend for testing to continue throughout the coming years with the goal of defining the most feasible internal combustion engine-based solutions for power plant and marine applications.

Various timelines are to be explored by Wärtsilä according to each market. For the energy market, the company plan for an engine and plant concept for pure hydrogen operation to be ready by 2025. For the marine market, it expects to have an engine running on an ammonia blend already this year, with a pure ammonia powered engine concept being anticipated in 2023. Although some distance away, it is anticipated that, within the energy market, 7% of the global energy demand will be delivered by green hydrogen by 2050.

Commenting on these key moments, Håkan Agnevall, CEO, Wärtsilä, said, “These are milestone moments in Wärtsilä’s transition to future fuels.”

“Society will have to invest significant amounts into the infrastructure needed to develop green hydrogen, but those investments require market-ready engines that can run on the fuel once it is readily available.”

“The energy and marine industries are on a decarbonisation journey, and the fuel flexibility of the engines powering these sectors is key to enable the transformation.”

In addition to green hydrogen production, as part of the EU’s ShipFC project, Wärtsilä is developing ammonia storage and supply systems. By designing cargo handling systems for liquid petroleum gas carrier vessels that have been used to transport ammonia, as well as other gases, the company has already gained significant experience in this area.

With customers Knutsen OAS, Repsol Norway and Equinor, Wärtsilä will begin testing ammonia in a marine four-stroke combustion engine at the Sustainable Energy Catapult Centre in Stord, Norway, as part of the Demo2000 project.

The broad-reaching scope of Wärtsilä’s approach to alternative fuels is reflected in the adaptive nature of the fuels themselves. An example of this is the ability for hydrogen to be used as a fuel in its existing state or as a raw material for producing a wide range of future fuels, including ammonia and synthetic methane.

As the company’s engines are highly flexible, they can support the power system as wind and solar power vary according to weather conditions by ramping up in power to meet the required load.

Agnevall spoke about the challenges involves in achieving a future where renewable energy is ubiquitous, saying, “For electricity generation, the amount of renewables globally is growing rapidly, which is vital for being able to comply with the Paris Agreement.”

“To achieve the transition to 100% renewable energy by the middle of the century, a significant amount of flexible balancing power is needed as a complement to ensure stable energy supply, when the sun is not shining or the wind is not blowing.”

He went on to say that, although there will be different balancing power technology, combustion engines and battery storage will be part of the core solutions.

Speaking about the goals set by the International Maritime Organisation (IMO), he said that targets have been set to reduce the carbon intensity of shipping by 30% by 2030, thus emphasising the need for the rapid introduction of existing and new smart technologies.