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Container ship reduces GHG emissions by using synthetic natural gas

Written by

Nick Blenkey

ElbBLUE bunkered some 20 tonnes of green SNG (synthetic natural gas) at the Elbe port in Brunsbüttel, Germany

By operating on a blend of synthetic natural gas (SNG) and LNG, the 1,036 TEU container ship, ElbBLUE reduced its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 27% compared to using LNG alone. Compared to heavy fuel oil (HFO), the reduction in GHG emissions reached 34%.

MAN Energy Solutions reports that this data is from measurements initially made on board the vessel in September 2021 when the ElbBLUE– the old one Wes Amelie — became the first container ship in the world to replace part of its bunker gas fuel (around 50%) with SNG.

“With this project, we have proven the technical viability of our maritime energy transition concept,” said Dr. Uwe Lauber, CEO of MAN Energy Solutions. “Today, more than ever, we believe that climate-neutral synthetic fuels are leading the way to green shipping – and beyond.”


“The current global political situation highlights the future role that synthetic fuels can play in a diversified energy supply in that they pave the way for less dependence on raw material deposits, suppliers and fluctuations of price.” notes Lauber. “Following the military attack on Ukraine in violation of international law, the prices of LNG, for example, have increased massively in recent weeks and are now at a level similar to that of synthetic natural gas. If production capacity can be expanded quickly and synthetic fuels are made available on the market, SNG could become a climate-friendly and – in the long term – cost-effective alternative to fossil fuels in shipping.


“With this pilot project, we have proven that any LNG-powered ship can also run on green SNG from feed to X,” said Stefan Eefting, Senior Vice President and Head of MAN PrimeServ Augsburg. “Even with a blend of only 50% SNG, GHG and pollutant emissions are significantly reduced. When operated exclusively for SNG, we expect at least an 80% reduction in GHG emissions for modern vessels.

Gas operation also significantly reduces other polluting emissions compared to HFO. In the case of ElbBLEU, emissions of nitrogen oxides (NOx) fell by nearly 87%, while emissions of sulfur oxides (SOx) and particulate matter were almost completely eliminated (~99%). These values ​​were achieved both in the exclusive operation on LNG and on a mixture of LNG and SNG.

Measurements were made during a trip between Brunsbüttel, Germany, and Rotterdam, the Netherlands, with synthetic natural gas comprising approximately 50% of the bunker gas at 85% engine load. the ElbBLUE is powered by a MAN 51/60DF four-stroke engine. As a multi-fuel engine, the unit allows operation with HFO or liquefied natural gas (LNG) as fuel. The ship’s trial proved that the latter can be replaced by the SNG without modification of the engine.


Owned by German shipping company Elbdeich and operated by charterer Unifeeder, the 1,036 TEU container ship, ElbBLEU, sails the North Sea and the Baltic Sea. He made headlines in 2017 under his former name, Wes Amelie, when its MAN 8L48/60B main engine was converted to the current MAN 8L51/60DF four-stroke engine, which allows dual-fuel operation with gas. It was the world’s first conversion of a container ship to a multi-fuel LNG operation.

In September 2021, the ship took another step on the path to climate-neutral shipping when, in the port of Brunsbüttel on the Elbe, it became the first container ship in the world to store climate-neutral synthetic marine fuel – some 20 tons. The liquefied SNG was produced at a power-to-gas plant operated by kiwi AG in Werlte, Germany, and generated using 100% renewable energy.


Synthetic natural gas is considered a carbon-neutral fuel because its combustion only releases the amount of CO2 captured during its production using power-to-X technology. However, like LNG, SNG largely consists of methane (CH4) and during operation small amounts of unburnt gas can escape – the so-called methane slip. Methane is considered a greenhouse gas which, when released unburned into the atmosphere, is 28 times more harmful to the climate than CO2. MAN already offers solutions for slip-free methane operation in two-stroke engines. For four-stroke engines, the company is working on various solutions to further reduce methane exhaust from the combustion chamber.

“In recent years, we have already succeeded in halving the methane leak in our dual-fuel four-stroke engines through internal engine measures, and we see further potential in the area of ​​exhaust gas aftertreatment. says Eefting. “We are currently developing special oxidation catalysts with which we were able to reduce methane slip by an additional 70% in laboratory tests. Next year we will test the catalyst on board a ship for the first time and hope to have market-ready technology by 2025.”

Categories: News, Technology
Keywords: ElbeBLU, LNG, MAN Energy Solutions, methane slide, power-to-X, SNG, Stefan Eefting, synthetic natural gas, Uwe Lauber, Wes Amelie

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