2024 Internal combustion engines are still the mainstream accurate choice for ship power.

2024 Internal combustion engines are still the mainstream accurate choice for ship power.

From April 19 to 23, the 2024 World Internal combustion engines Conference held in Tianjin focused on the development path of “green, reliable, intelligent and efficient” industry. Scientists, entrepreneurs, academicians and scholars from all over the world jointly discussed the advancement of low-carbon, zero-carbon and carbon-neutral fuel engine technology and the development of new quality productivity of human society.

Internal combustion engines in the field of ship power

Driven by the wave of science and technology, the field of ship electric propulsion development is ushering in a profound change. Many experts and scholars said that the internal combustion engine is an energy conversion device that converts the chemical energy of fuel into thermal energy and then into mechanical energy.

The use of renewable fuels including ammonia, hydrogen, methanol, various synthetic diesels, etc. can make internal combustion engines “carbon neutral” or “zero-carbon” power. The development and application of related technologies will create a new future for the internal combustion engine industry.

As the International Maritime Organization (IMO) tightens its carbon dioxide emission reduction policy, the shipping industry is accelerating its transformation away from fossil energy. The revision of European carbon trading regulations and the introduction of carbon border adjustment taxes have further promoted the process of green fuel substitution for ocean-going ships. At the same time, policy incentives are also prompting shipowners to use “carbon neutral” or low-carbon fuels throughout their life cycle to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Huang Zhen, academician of the Chinese Academy of Engineering, director of the Academic Committee of the 2024 World Internal Combustion Engine Conference, and chair professor of Shanghai Jiaotong University, said. For ship and sea power, ship electric propulsion or battery replacement mode is suitable for short-distance inland river small and medium-sized ships, while large ocean-going ships need to rely on carbon neutral fuels or “zero-carbon” fuels.

Renewable synthetic fuels

In the future, renewable synthetic fuel technology is a transformative technology for “carbon neutral” power systems, which can provide a new solution for energy transformation and the realization of “carbon neutral” goals.

Huang Zhen believes that renewable synthetic fuels (including synthetic gasoline, synthetic diesel, methanol, and dimethyl ether) can be produced from “green electricity”, water, and carbon dioxide. Making transportation and industrial fuels independent of fossil energy and achieving “net zero carbon” emissions can provide a new solution for the national energy strategy transformation and the realization of the “carbon neutrality” goal.

The current technical “bottleneck” is how to improve the conversion efficiency of renewable synthetic fuels and the long-term stability of synthetic fuel devices, which is also the key to its ultimate commercialization. He said that in the future, in addition to considering the cost of green electricity itself and carbon constraints such as external carbon taxes, the future zero marginal cost effect must also be considered in the preparation of low-cost renewable synthetic fuels.

Future Outlook

Ship internal combustion engines will continue to be the mainstream choice for ship power in the future, and their name may be changed from traditional ship diesel engines to ship internal combustion engines. But this change is not just a change in name, but also represents a comprehensive upgrade of the power system in terms of fuel, technology, and performance.

Liu Zhigang, former president of Harbin Engineering University, said in an interview that inland and coastal ships will have many choices in the future, and clean fuels, hybrid power, and pure electric power may all become their choices. However, ocean-going ships are completely different, and internal combustion power is still a more practical long-term choice.

Internal combustion engines are common in various machinery
Internal combustion engines are common in various machinery

Liu Zhigang said that in terms of fuel, future ship internal combustion engines may adopt more environmentally friendly and low-carbon fuels to meet market demand and environmental regulations. Traditional heavy oil fuels are gradually withdrawn due to their high carbon emissions, or become one of the optional fuels, and replaced by new clean fuels. In the near future, liquefied natural gas (LNG) and methanol may become the main fuel forms, and in the long term, they will gradually turn to zero-carbon fuels such as hydrogen and ammonia.

At the technical level, ship internal combustion engines will face challenges in engine body design, combustion organization, friction and lubrication, and security issues. How to achieve efficient and safe combustion, how to ensure the safety of fuel during transportation and storage, and how to deal with emissions are all key points that need to be broken through in future ship internal combustion engine technology.

Challenges encountered

Despite the many challenges, Liu Zhigang firmly believes that as long as China’s wisdom and institutional advantages are fully utilized and continuous technical research is carried out, China is expected to achieve a leapfrog development from technology following to running side by side, or even leading in the field of ship internal combustion engines.

At present, many research institutes and enterprises under China Shipbuilding Industry Corporation are actively carrying out independent design and development of ship internal combustion power, aiming to actively promote the independent innovation and development of low-carbon and zero-carbon ship power technology and enhance the international competitiveness of China’s ship power technology.

In some special application scenarios, internal combustion engines may change from main power to auxiliary power, but on ocean-going ships, internal combustion engines still have strong vitality.

Shao Yu, general manager of China Shipbuilding Power (Group) Co., Ltd. under China Shipbuilding Industry Corporation, said that the fuel types of internal combustion engines are changing, including green fuels such as methanol, ammonia and LNG, which are preparing to achieve the “net zero” emission target around 2050.

For ammonia fuel, on the one hand, major international classification societies have formed a relatively complete specification system, some of which have been introduced, which provides a regulatory environment for the development of ammonia fuel internal combustion engines.

Solving the problem

On the other hand, ammonia fuel internal combustion engines need to solve the problem of poor flammability of ammonia; a suitable combustion organization scheme is needed to reduce the generation of nitrous oxide.

A more efficient denitrification system is needed; it is necessary to face the difficulties of processing, manufacturing, installation and maintenance brought about by some new structural designs.

Systematic measures are needed to prevent the safety hazards caused by ammonia leakage; special materials are needed to deal with the corrosiveness and lubrication problems of ammonia. This will greatly increase the design and manufacturing costs of ammonia fuel internal combustion engines, but at the technical level, these problems can be solved.

In addition, considering the EU’s carbon tax policy, which requires shipping companies to pay “carbon tax” for the greenhouse gas emissions of the previous year every year. While increasing the operating costs of shipping companies, it will also form a new balance of benefits, thereby boosting the global economy and may bring huge development space to the marine internal combustion engine industry.

“Therefore, we have reason to believe that ammonia fuel internal combustion engines have huge market potential and development space, and may occupy a position of ‘one-third of the world’ among various fuels in the future.” Shao Yu emphasized.

Shao Yu believes that green fuel is of great significance to marine internal combustion engines and is an important factor in ensuring the long-term survival and development of internal combustion engines. Especially in the field of ocean-going ships, internal combustion engines will not withdraw from the stage of history due to the rise of technologies such as batteries.

The life cycle of internal combustion engines using green fuels is still very long. In the future, we need to continue to pay attention to how to reduce the cost of ammonia fuel internal combustion engines. In addition, the growth of the ammonia fuel industry chain, including port bunkering, will also affect the future development of marine propulsion motors.

Internal combustion engines convert fuel into mechanical energy
Internal combustion engines convert fuel into mechanical energy

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