Navigating the shipping route to net zero with REMARCCABLE shipboard carbon capture technology

As the oil and gas industry commits to a low carbon future, shipping turns to new carbon capture innovations and technologies to reduce fossil fuel emissions. The OGCI chair Bjorn Otto Sverdup has been at the forefront of the shift towards greener alternatives.

As new climate records are set seemingly week on week, the world’s technocrats are tightening the rules about the burning of fossil fuels. The IMO’s slow-grinding bureaucracy, for example, inched ahead in early July with the adoption of an upgraded greenhouse gas strategy for global shipping. Shipping has many options to reduce its carbon footprint, from AI-optimised operations to reduced fuel consumption to the reimagining of sail technology to curb fuel burn and the introduction of alternative, cleaner-burning fuels.  

For the oil and gas industry, of course, the hope is the transition to a low carbon future will be a soft landing, and the plan is to steer there through collaborative innovation. Twelve of the world’s biggest oil and gas companies - Aramco, bp, Chevron, CNPC, Eni, Equinor, ExxonMobil, Occidental, Petrobras, Repsol, Shell and TotalEnergies - have formed the Oil & Gas Climate Initiative (OGCI) to target net-zero in their own operations, including the ships that move their products around the world. Their projections indicate there will be no drop-dead date for the end of fossil fuelled shipping in the next two decades, with studies suggesting 85% of the fuel mix for two-stroke engines will remain fossil-fuel based by 2030 and 34% by 2050.  

Shipboard carbon capture can help reduce GHG emissions of current vessels, with the possibility of recycling captured CO2 to produce alternative fuels. This is something the OGCI is keen to accelerate through the REMARCCABLE (Realizing Maritime Carbon Capture to demonstrate the Ability to Lower Emissions) project, which seeks to decarbonise shipping through onboard carbon capture.  

It helps that the member companies already have significant experience applying carbon capture technology to stationary applications. “The fundamental science doesn’t change when applying it to mobile sources like shipping,” said OGCI chair Bjorn Otto Sverdup in recent conversation with the International Chamber of Shipping ahead of its Shaping the Future of Shipping – Seafarer 2050 conference. 

Indeed, OGCI’s member companies are involved in developing over 30 large-scale CCUS (carbon capture, use and storage) hubs around the world, which have the combined potential to remove around 300 million tonnes of CO2 annually by 2030. This is, said Sverdup, equivalent to 80 coal power plants, or taking 64 million cars off the road.  

OGCI members Equinor, Shell and Total, for example, are building the Northern Lights CCUS project, which is the world’s first open-source CO2 transport and storage infrastructure. Northern Lights provides “carbon storage as a service” to help hard-to-abate industries meet their emissions targets, with its customers sending captured CO2 to be permanently stored in a North Sea reservoir some 2,600m beneath the seabed.  In May 2023 it secured its second commercial customer, Ørsted, which will store CO2 from two biomass power stations in Denmark, building on an earlier agreement with shipping company Yara.   

Of course, it’s one thing to undertake CCUS projects onshore, building out infrastructure that has been tried and tested over decades – injecting CO2 into oil reservoirs to flush out hard-to-reach reserves is a proven enhanced oil recovery technique – but quite another to transplant that technology to the unique conditions of the marine environment.  For Bjorn Otto Sverdup, however, these engineering challenges “are not showstoppers”. 

“Like stationary carbon capture, it is a matter of economics, and this is where we are seeking to understand both the opportunities and challenges that lie ahead,” he told the ICS. 

That understanding will come from a pilot project, which is targeting at least 30% absolute CO2 capture on an annual basis, or approximately 1,000 kilograms an hour of capture, designed to show the feasibility of using carbon capture onboard a vessel. The project will use non-proprietary equipment and processes so that results can be shared and encourage further innovation.   

Momentum is building. In March 2023, the consortium received approval in principle from the American Bureau of Shipping (ABS) to use a carbon capture system onboard an oil tanker – a milestone that unlocks the next phase of this two-year demonstration project.  

Following a full engineering study, the carbon capture system will be built and tested prior to integration onboard a Stena Bulk medium range (MR) tanker for sea trials. There will also be a study into the offloading of the liquid. These trials will initially involve over 500 hours of capture of the exhaust from burning high-sulphur fuel oil or very-low sulphur fuel oil and will include offloading the captured CO2 at ports along the route of a 10-day deep-sea voyage. The Stena Bulk will retain the carbon capture system onboard and extend its use beyond this pilot. 

In addition to proving the engineering and safety of the technology, the project also aims to establish a pathway to reduce the cost of CO2 capture to 150 €/t CO2 or lower, to allow the technology to be commercially deployed in future. Panos Koutsourakis, ABS Vice President of Global Sustainability, said the project had “significant potential to accelerate the pace of commercial applications”. Indeed, its backers hope success will accelerate commercial deployment of shipboard carbon capture technology within the next five years, providing MR tankers and other vessels of similar size with a mid-term solution to cut GHG emissions. 

This is, however, just one project towards decarbonising oil and gas shipping. Bjorn said it’s clear there will need to be “multiple technologies” to decarbonise at the necessary speed and scale to meet both the IMO’s 2050 targets and the goals of the Paris Agreement.  

These include improved efficiency, propulsion aids, biofuels and alternative fuels such as ammonia and methanol. Given the diversity of the global shipping industry, with its wide array of vessels, voyage profiles and requirements, there will need to be a portfolio of competitively viable technologies to reach anywhere near net zero. The aim of REMARCCABLE is to ensure onboard carbon capture can hold its own in terms of safety, engineering, efficacy and commercial viability to play a meaningful part in this transition.  

Interested in learning more about sustainability initiatives in shipping? Read our recent article on green shipping corridors, or join the IMarEST’s Ship, Energy & Environment SIG 


Amy McLellan is a journalist and author. She was previously editor of Energy Day. Twitter  @AmyMcLellan2