cargo ship in the middle of the sea

Undertaking risk analysis to ensure the safe adoption of alternative fuels

In response to the International Maritime Organization’s (IMO) new targets for reducing emissions from vessels, shipowners are looking to alternative fuels to power their fleets. From ammonia, to hydrogen, to methanol, vessel owners have many different options for low- and zero-carbon fuels. However, each alternative fuel presents its own unique risks and challenges for shipowners to understand, mitigate and overcome.

The maritime industry is increasingly moving toward alternatives to diesel and heavy fuel oil. Liquefied natural gas (LNG), a low-carbon fuel, has been in use for over a decade, with many shipowners still fitting out their vessels to use LNG. However, many marine stakeholders are looking to switch to even cleaner fuels in the coming years.

Alternative fuels such as ammonia, hydrogen, methanol and other alcohols or bio fuels can help shipowners limit their environmental impact and achieve compliance with IMO regulations for reducing emissions. When produced sustainably, these fuels are low- or zero-carbon, emitting fewer greenhouse gases and less particulate matter.

However, alternative fuels also create several challenges for ship design and onboard storage. To safely use green fuels, owners must assess and mitigate risks specific to their ships and the fuel type chosen. To do this, many shipowners are turning to third-party experts with experience assessing risks for LNG, seeing their expertise as transferable for other alternative fuels.


Key risks for alternative fuels


The major risk for ammonia as fuel is safety, as ammonia is a toxic substance that can be lethal following exposure beyond a certain threshold. Shipyards will need to carefully rework the design of fuel storage, distribution, handing and bunkering systems in order to detect and prevent ammonia leakage during operations.

A second issue associated with ammonia is fuel storage. Ammonia has a much lower energy density than other fuels – about half that of liquefied natural gas, and about less than third that of standard fuel oil. This presents a particular design and engineering challenge, as shipyards must reconfigure ships to carry enough ammonia fuel onboard in a safe way.


Hydrogen as fuel shares the same two major concerns as ammonia: safe handling and storage. Hydrogen is flammable and explosive, and must be stored under extremely high pressures. This means that careful risk analyses must be carried out on all onboard storage, handling and refueling systems.

Hydrogen also has much lower volumetric energy density as compared to other fuels, meaning that a larger amount must be stored onboard. Vessel owners must carefully assess how much space is available onboard, and how hydrogen can be stored safely.


Ships that use methanol as fuel must be specifically designed to protect crew and operations. As a fuel, methanol is toxic, explosive and flammable, and must be stored and handled with care. Shipowners looking to use methanol onboard should expect to undertake comprehensive hazard testing first.


Running all the right studies

Third-party experts are playing a key role in facilitating the implementation of alternative fuel technologies onboard. Risk analysts can perform a range of studies to help clients fully understand the risks involved in using alternative fuels and integrating them onboard. These include:

To offer end-to-end support, risk analysis teams can then collaborate with relevant technical experts, classification societies and clients to discuss the pros and cons of various configurations. In this way, third parties help generate the best design solutions for the client’s vessels.


How BV Solutions M&O gets you to green

Clients trust BV Solutions M&O because of our long history of performing similar risk analyses on LNG-powered vessels. We are proud to facilitate the industry’s energy transition with comprehensive risk analysis, helping shipowners assess the risks involved in implementing technology compatible with alternative fuels onboard.

In addition to working with our risk analysis team, clients also benefit from the depth and breadth of knowledge within our global network of technical experts. We know our work is complete when our clients are equipped to make the best design decisions for their vessels and the environment.


Hydrogen fuel for inland navigation vessels

Each type of fuel poses its own challenges, and hydrogen presents several, particularly for inland navigation vessels. Because hydrogen must be stored under very high pressure, its quick release into the atmosphere in a confined space can form large, highly explosive clouds that can threaten people and nearby structures. To ensure safety, hydrogen risk analysis and design studies for inland navigation vessels often involve multiple organizations, such as local fire brigades, authorities and regional or national agencies.

70% IMO’s target for CO2 reduction by 2050, as compared to 2008 levels
Photo of Diane Ruf

Head of Risk, Reliability & Maintenance team

BV Solutions M&O

While each alternative fuel comes with its own risks and challenges, none are impossible to overcome. Performing a risk analysis is always worth the effort, as it provides a safe path to using cleaner fuels, improving sustainability for vessels and the environment.