Alternative Fuels for Ships

Detailed overview of innovation with sample startups and prominent university research

What it is

Alternative fuels in the marine industry encompass a range of options designed to replace or supplement conventional fossil fuels, aiming to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and minimize the sector’s environmental footprint. These fuels can be derived from various sources, including renewable energy, biomass, and even captured carbon.

Impact on climate action

Alternative fuels for marine vessels reduce emissions of greenhouse gases and pollutants, advancing climate action by mitigating the environmental impact of shipping. This innovation lowers carbon footprints and fosters sustainable maritime transportation, contributing to global efforts in combating climate change and preserving marine ecosystems.


  • Biofuels: Biofuels, derived from organic matter such as vegetable oils, algae, or waste biomass, offer a renewable alternative to fossil fuels. They can be used in existing engines with minimal modifications (drop-in biofuels) or require specific engine adaptations.
  • Liquified Natural Gas (LNG): LNG, a cleaner-burning fossil fuel than HFO, emits less CO2, sulfur oxides, and nitrogen oxides. However, it still contributes to greenhouse gas emissions and raises concerns about methane leakage during production and transport.
  • Hydrogen: Considered a zero-emission fuel, hydrogen can be produced from renewable sources (green hydrogen) and used in fuel cells or combustion engines. However, challenges exist in terms of production cost, storage, and distribution infrastructure.
  • Ammonia: Ammonia, produced from renewable energy sources, is gaining traction as a potential maritime fuel. It has a high energy density and can be stored and transported relatively easily.
  • Methanol: Methanol, produced from renewable sources, is another promising option with existing production infrastructure and lower handling costs compared to hydrogen or ammonia.

TRL : Variable (4-9)

Prominent Innovation themes

  • Advanced Biofuel Production: Research focuses on improving the efficiency and sustainability of biofuel production, exploring new feedstocks such as algae and advanced conversion technologies.
  • Hydrogen Fuel Cells: Innovation in fuel cell technology aims to improve efficiency, reduce costs, and enhance the durability of fuel cells for maritime applications.
  • Ammonia Cracking: Technology development for cracking ammonia to produce hydrogen on-board vessels is crucial for enabling ammonia as a fuel source.
  • Carbon Capture and Utilization: Some startups are exploring using captured CO2 to produce synthetic fuels for the marine industry.
  • Hybrid Propulsion Systems: Combining alternative fuels with wind-assisted propulsion or battery-electric systems can further reduce emissions and improve fuel efficiency.

Other Innovation Subthemes

  • Advanced Biofuel Production Techniques
  • Enhanced Efficiency of Biofuel Conversion
  • Algae-Based Biofuel Exploration
  • Ammonia Cracking for Hydrogen Production
  • Onboard Ammonia Production Technology
  • Utilization of Captured CO2 for Fuel
  • Synthetic Fuel Production from CO2
  • Wind-Assisted Propulsion Technologies
  • Battery-Electric Hybrid Systems
  • Renewable Methanol Production Processes
  • Green Hydrogen Production Techniques
  • Expansion of Green Hydrogen Infrastructure
  • Ammonia as a High-Energy Maritime Fuel

Sample Global Startups and Companies

  • GoodFuels:
    • Technology Focus: GoodFuels specializes in the development and distribution of sustainable alternative fuels for the shipping and transportation industries. Their focus is on biofuels and synthetic fuels derived from renewable sources.
    • Uniqueness: GoodFuels stands out for its commitment to sustainability and reducing the carbon footprint of maritime and transportation sectors. They offer high-quality alternative fuels that can be seamlessly integrated into existing infrastructure and engines.
    • End-User Segments: Their target segments include shipping companies, freight transporters, airlines, and other transportation operators looking to transition to more sustainable fuel options to comply with environmental regulations and reduce emissions.
  • Zero Emission Services (ZES):
    • Technology Focus: ZES specializes in providing zero-emission solutions for maritime and port operations. Their focus may include battery-electric and hydrogen fuel cell technologies to power ships, port equipment, and shore-side infrastructure.
    • Uniqueness: ZES is unique in its comprehensive approach to zero-emission solutions for the maritime industry, offering not only alternative fuels but also infrastructure and support services for the electrification of ports and vessels.
    • End-User Segments: Their target segments are likely port authorities, shipping companies, and terminal operators seeking to decarbonize their operations and comply with stricter emissions regulations in ports and coastal areas.
  • Amogy:
    • Technology Focus: Amogy specializes in advanced fuel cell technology for various applications, including transportation, stationary power generation, and industrial processes. They may focus on hydrogen fuel cells as an alternative to traditional fossil fuels.
    • Uniqueness: Amogy stands out for its cutting-edge fuel cell technology, which offers high efficiency, low emissions, and versatility across different sectors. They may also offer solutions for hydrogen production and storage.
    • End-User Segments: Their target segments could include automotive manufacturers, energy companies, industrial facilities, and government agencies looking to adopt hydrogen fuel cell technology as part of their sustainability and decarbonization strategies.

Sample Research At Top-Tier Universities

  • Delft University of Technology:
    • Technology Enhancements: Researchers at Delft University of Technology are pioneering the development of alternative fuels for marine vessels, with a focus on hydrogen-based solutions. They are exploring novel methods for producing, storing, and utilizing hydrogen as a clean energy source for maritime transport.
    • Uniqueness of Research: Delft’s approach involves the integration of hydrogen fuel cells and hybrid propulsion systems into existing marine vessels, enabling them to operate with significantly reduced emissions. They are also investigating the use of renewable energy sources such as wind and solar power to produce hydrogen sustainably.
    • End-use Applications: The research at Delft University of Technology has direct applications in the shipping industry, enabling vessels to transition away from traditional fossil fuels towards low-carbon alternatives. By adopting hydrogen-based propulsion systems, marine operators can comply with stringent environmental regulations and contribute to global efforts to combat climate change.
  • Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU):
    • Technology Enhancements: NTNU researchers are exploring a range of alternative fuels for marine applications, including biofuels derived from sustainable sources such as algae and waste biomass. They are developing innovative production processes to convert organic matter into biofuels that can be used to power ships.
    • Uniqueness of Research: NTNU’s research encompasses the entire value chain of biofuel production, from feedstock cultivation to refining and distribution. They are investigating ways to optimize each step of the process to maximize energy efficiency and minimize environmental impact.
    • End-use Applications: The biofuels developed at NTNU have diverse applications in the maritime sector, ranging from cargo shipping to passenger transport. By substituting conventional marine fuels with renewable alternatives, shipowners can reduce their carbon footprint and meet sustainability targets without compromising performance or reliability.
  • University College London (UCL):
    • Technology Enhancements: UCL researchers are leading the development of synthetic fuels for low-carbon marine propulsion, with a focus on e-fuels produced from renewable electricity and carbon dioxide captured from the atmosphere. They are investigating electrochemical processes to convert carbon dioxide into liquid fuels that can be used in marine engines.
    • Uniqueness of Research: UCL’s approach combines cutting-edge electrochemistry with advanced catalysis and reactor design to enable the large-scale production of e-fuels for marine applications. They are also exploring synergies with other sectors such as aviation and automotive to scale up production and drive down costs.
    • End-use Applications: The e-fuels developed at UCL offer a scalable and sustainable solution for decarbonizing the marine industry. By leveraging renewable electricity and carbon capture technologies, ship operators can reduce their reliance on fossil fuels and transition towards a more sustainable energy future.

commercial_img Commercial Implementation

Biofuels are currently the most commercially viable alternative fuel for the marine industry, with several companies offering drop-in biofuels that can be used in existing ships. LNG is also gaining traction, with an increasing number of ships being built or retrofitted to use LNG as fuel. However, the adoption of hydrogen and ammonia as marine fuels is still in its early stages, with pilot projects and demonstrations underway.