BHP has short-listed eight companies to build, operate and supply an ammonia-fuelled bulker in a move aligning with its membership of the Australia-East Asia Green Corridor (DCN 8 March).

Rashpal Singh Bhatti, vice president of maritime and supply chain excellence at BHP told newsagency Reuters late last week that the company has not yet decided on the total number of vessels that it will order. It is also still assessing costs, technical and safety submissions but expects the first ship to be in service in 2026.

The proposed ships are likely to refuel ammonia at ports in Australia, Japan and China, Mr Bhatti told Reuters.

“Australia is going to be a very strong hydrogen player or a very strong ammonia player. Yara [Norwegian chemical maker, with a plant in Karratha] is investing or has invested very heavily in Australia,” he said.

“Mitsui, Sumitomo, JERA have invested very heavily in Japan… there is no doubt that China is (also) investing in ammonia… and when they invest, the scale is going to be massive,” he said.

The Getting to Zero Consortium backing the Green Corridor comprises the Global Maritime Forum, BHP, Rio Tinto, Oldendorff Carriers and Star Bulk. Last year a feasibility study undertaken by Lloyd’s Register for the Pilbara Ports Authority and Yara Clean Ammonia found ammonia bunkering is economically and operationally viable in the Pilbara region.

BHP told Reuters it also plans to use bio-blended fuels for bunkering regularly to meet Europe’s shipping emissions requirements, after conducting more than 30 trials. Shippers can adopt bio-blended fuels to meet the EU’s emissions requirements, though these fuels are at a price premium to conventional marine fuel.

“These costs are absolutely shared and passed on to our customers because our customer base is very keen,” Mr Bhatti said.

BHP is already operating five dual-fuelled (LNG) 209,000 DWT Newcastle-max bulkers, built by China’s Shanghai Waigaoqiao Shipbuilding from 2022 and chartered for five years from Singapore’s Eastern Pacific Shipping.