Japanese Shipping Giant to Pioneer an Ammonia-Fueled Tugboat

NYK Line is developing the A-tug, an ammonia-fueled tugboat 6 photos
Photo: NYK Line
Ammonia-Fueled TugboatNYK Line receives approval for its ammonia-tugboat designLNG TugboatElectric TugboatElectric Tugboat
Tugboats are certainly not the most fascinating type of vessel, but using them to implement innovative eco-friendly technologies can be of great help on the path to decarbonizing maritime transportation. It starts on a smaller scale, with tugboats, and the lessons learned will help advance the technology for larger, more complex ships.
We’ve talked about several battery-electric tugboats, hybrid-electric ones, and LNG-fueled ones. Now, it’s time for an ammonia-fueled tug to take center stage. For now, it’s still just a project, but it recently got the green light from the Japanese classification society Nippon Kaiji Kyokai (ClassNK). NYK Line, the shipping giant that initiated the project together with IHI Power Systems, says that it would be the first of its kind in the world.

The A-tug design had to demonstrate that the equipment required for an ammonia fuel engine could be installed safely and efficiently on a vessel with limited space availability without having to modify its size. In other words, the future A-tug would have to function just as well as a conventional tugboat of the same size.

It wasn’t an easy task since ammonia has its downsides, despite being heralded as one of the best alternatives to conventional maritime fuel. For example, the combustion of ammonia generates N2O (nitrous oxide), which, according to NYK Line, has “300 times the warming potential of CO2.” Plus, ammonia has a low energy density, and it’s flame-retardant. This is why the project had to find solutions for controlled, stable ammonia combustion. Also, safety measures that prevent toxic leakage were also very important.

The future A-tug is part of the Green Innovation Fund project that was launched last year, together with Japan’s New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization (NEDO), with the goal of developing an ammonia-fueled engine for vessels.

NYK Line hopes to kick off demonstration operations for this ammonia tug by 2024.
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Editor's note: Gallery showing various eco-friendly tugboats

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About the author: Otilia Drăgan
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Otilia believes that if it’s eco, green, or groundbreaking, people should know about it (especially if it's got wheels or wings). Working in online media for over five years, she's gained a deeper perspective on how people everywhere can inspire each other.
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