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Removing fire barriers for e-fuels

Published: 03.06.24

When ships are built or converted to sail on methanol, ammonia or hydrogen, the current standards and guidelines are not enough. Together with ShippingLab, DBI is therefore to develop a tool that will make it possible to design a fire strategy for any vessel.

The maritime sector plays an important role in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. This concerns designing new vessels to sail on e-fuels such as methanol, ammonia and hydrogen, as well as converting existing vessels to these alternative fuels.

There is a long tradition and extensive experience from sailing with alternative fuels as cargo. But to sail on these fuels for propulsion, the current standards and guidelines are not sufficient when it comes to fire risks. It also takes time to adapt them to the new handling and applications, which may include hybrid solutions with both alternative and traditional fuels. The sector therefore needs guidance now if fire safety for crew, passengers and cargo is not to become an obstacle to the green transition in the engine rooms.

The new project, METAFUEL, will provide this guidance. The project is being carried out by the Danish Institute of Fire and Security Technology (DBI) under the auspices of Shipping Lab to ensure close cooperation with the Danish maritime sector.

"There is a need for a specific tool that can continuously and cost-effectively adapt to the new reality of green fuels. Our goal with METAFUEL is to make it possible to create a fire strategy for any vessel – no matter how it is configured, and whether it is a new build or a rebuild of an existing vessel. This can help make the green transition realistic for more than the leading shipping companies," says Carsten Møller, Business Development Specialist for Maritime and Power-to-X at DBI.

Both crew and technology 

As a government-approved technology institute (GTS), DBI has several decades' experience with fire safety in the maritime sector, and also has a strong focus on Power-to-X, including how methanol, ammonia and hydrogen are to be handled in ports. METAFUEL will build on this knowledge as the project develops a tool that covers both crew, including safety equipment, training and use; and technology, including ship type and fire prevention system.

"One example is safety suits. As it stands today, there is one type of suit for ammonia release and another type for firefighting. So how do you deal with both spills and fire at the same time?" asks Carsten Møller and continues:

"And which extinguishing method is best for a methanol fire in an engine room where there is also heavy fuel? If you ask shipping companies today, they say CO2, as this is a requirement. But no one really knows whether this is the best solution."

ShippingLab seal of approval

This hands-on approach has led ShippingLab to take the project under its umbrella and make DBI a partner.

"This is an important project because it can eliminate a barrier to the green transition of the maritime sector and strengthen its breadth. Today, there is a great deal of uncertainty about which rules to comply with in terms of fire safety if, for example, you want to sail on ammonia," says Magnus Gary, Project Director at ShippingLab.

"You may also think up a lot of challenges in advance and end up overregulating and thereby making projects more expensive. The strength of METAFUEL is that the project will develop a method to create a fire strategy for any configuration of a ship. In other words, what is actually critical and which measures are really needed," explains Magnus Gary.

He looks forward to helping to ensure that the project is firmly anchored in the maritime sector – with shipping companies, shipyards, classification societies and other stakeholders.

Standardised global method

This anchoring will also be reflected in the second part of METAFUEL, where the fire strategy tool will be tested in practice in the design of one or more vessels.

"This will give us some important examples. This could be anything from a local ferry sailing on methanol, to a Ro-Ro vessel running on ammonia. We're very open to cooperation," says Carsten Møller.

Together with DBI’s project manager for the project, Mads Ragnwald Nielsen, he sees perspectives that go far beyond METAFUEL:

“We're starting with a relatively limited project, but our vision is for METAFUEL to provide a standardised method for documenting a global fire strategy for a vessel operating on green fuels,” emphasises Carsten Møller.

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The METAFUEL project will develop a tool for the maritime sector that makes it possible to create a fire strategy for any vessel sailing on methanol, ammonia or hydrogen. It thus needs to overcome one of the major challenges when building or converting vessels that sail on alternative fuel – possibly in combination with traditional fuel – namely fire safety on board.

As a government-approved technology institute (GTS), the Danish Institute of Fire and Security Technology (DBI) is implementing the project under ShippingLab's auspices to ensure close cooperation with important stakeholders such as shipping companies, shipyards and classification societies.

Once developed, the tool will be used in practice in the design of one or more vessels to sail on methanol, ammonia or hydrogen. The project is financed by the Danish Maritime Fund and DBI and will run until the end of 2025.


Carsten Møller

Research and Innovation Consultant

+45 24 65 01 88