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Korean researchers champion LPG as marine fuel

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Regulatory agencies monitoring the activities of ships are increasingly adopting eco-friendly measures to combat the environmental damage caused by propulsion fuels. Although LPG is a potential eco-friendly alternative, its viability as a maritime fuel has not been assessed so far. Now, a study conducted by researchers from Korea Maritime and Ocean University shows that using LPG could reduce air pollution, is low-cost, and is applicable regardless of ship size.

The researchers say combustion of fuels used for powering ships negatively impacts our environment by releasing harmful pollutants into the atmosphere. As a result, maritime agencies monitoring shipping operations have enforced regulations to mitigate this impact. LPG is a viable eco-friendly alternative fuel and given its advantages and market competitiveness could open doors to zero carbon emission ships. Unfortunately, LPG has found little application so far in the shipping industry and is, therefore, lacking certification.

Against this backdrop, a team of researchers from Korea Maritime and Ocean University, South Korea investigated the feasibility of using LPG as a marine fuel in a new study published in the Journal of Cleaner Production. This paper was published in Volume 330 of the journal on 1st January, 2022.

The team, led by Dr. Won-Ju Lee who has worked as a chief engineer for an observation ship and as a gas engineer for LNG carriers, conducted statistical analysis of a database of 72,098 ships registered in South Korea. “There is a lack of comprehensive assessment of the economic, environmental, and safety aspects of LPG-based fuel systems worldwide. In our study, we identified ships with South Korean registrations that can be converted to LPG fuel use, and determined the reduction in fuel consumption, cost, and air pollutants from using LPG,” explained Dr. Lee.

The findings were encouraging. “Unlike current shipping fuels such as heavy fuel oil, LPG does not generate marine pollutants during leaks and is applicable without restrictions on the ship size,” said Dr. Lee. According to the study’s theoretical estimates, switching to LPG reduced the annual fuel consumption by 7.5-10.4%, fuel cost by 8.8-25.9%, CO2 emissions by 10-14%, NOx emissions by 14-16%, and SOx/particulate matter emissions by 98-99%.

Additionally, the study reviewed the current status of academic research, technological advancement in the area of LPG-fuelled engines, development of market competitors, and the safety standards developed by the IMO for establishing international standards for LPG-fuelled ships.

The researchers recommended promoting LPG as an attractive eco-friendly marine fuel by subsidising its prices and formulating government policies favouring its usage. “The results of this study could provide a reference for the national shipping industry to inform choices on using environment-friendly and low-cost fuel sources,” said Prof. Lee. “Additionally, constructing LPG propulsion ships would help in making a more reliable estimate of the total cost of LPG retrofit, conversion, and operation,” he concludes.

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