Liquefied natural gas (LNG)

T&E is working to reverse shipping’s growing addiction to liquefied natural gas (LNG) as a marine fuel – responsible for global warming through carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions and methane (CH4) slips.

80% More warming than CO2

25% European ships running on LNG in 2030

What’s the problem?

Shipowners that use LNG instead of traditional marine fuels want the public and policymakers to believe that gas is the “best option available today”, because of lower air pollutants and CO2 emissions. But using LNG brings new – and often worse – climate problems, making it a terrible choice for the future.

LNG is primarily made up of methane, a greenhouse gas 80 times more potent than CO2 in the short term and 30 times worse in the long term. Methane leaks into the atmosphere throughout the LNG production and supply chain and slips directly from the ship’s funnels*, contributing to climate warming at a significant pace.

The number of LNG-powered ships is increasing at an unprecedented scale and by 2030, a quarter of the energy used by European ships could come from fossil gas.

Choosing LNG as a marine fuel goes against the Global Methane Pledge that aims to reduce methane emissions by 30% by 2030 (compared to methane emissions level in 2020), and is against advice from institutions such as the World Bank.

* The amount of methane that slips from the ship’s engine engine varies depending on the engine type. Four-stroke engines tend to slip more methane that two-stroke engines for example. For more details, please refer to the briefing “Fossil gas: the greenwashing pill shipping wants you to swallow”

T&E’s methane investigation

A major problem is that across the gas supply chain, uncombusted methane leaks and slips into the atmosphere and it is warming the planet faster.

In a first investigation of its kind, T&E, with support from hydrocarbon experts, set out for sea to investigate methane slips from ships. Using a state of the art infrared camera with a special filter to detect hydrocarbon gases, the T&E team set out on a boat to track down known LNG ships in the port of Rotterdam. The investigation revealed significant amounts of unburned methane being released into the atmosphere with alarming repercussions for the climate.

What is the solution?

Green shipping fuels produced from renewable electricity such as hydrogen and e-ammonia represent the most promising way to decarbonise a sector that has long been reluctant to change. That’s because unlike many alternative fuels, e-fuels are truly sustainable and their production can be deployed to meet shipping’s growing demand.

However the uptake of e-fuels won’t happen on its own. That’s mainly because of very high costs, despite EU plans for scaling up their production. If the EU proposals for maritime are equipped with the right incentives for e-fuels, the demand could reach up to 7% of the EU shipping fuel mix already by 2030. This would give the sector the kickstart needed to deploy renewable fuels and ultimately achieve net-zero emissions by 2050.