It has been just over three years since COP21 took place in Paris. Shortly after, on Earth Day in 2016, 195 countries signed the Paris Agreement which aims to keep the increase in global average temperature to well-below 2°C.
The agreement is touted as a key driver for moving away from fossil fuels, yet it excludes one of the biggest fossil fuel-dependent industries: the maritime sector.
Shipping currently accounts for nearly 3% of global CO2 emissions, and may be responsible for 17% of global CO2 emissions in 2050 if left unregulated (source).
While shipping is often applauded as the greenest mode of transportation, it’s still almost fully reliant on fossil fuels. When expressed in CO2-emissions per ton-mile, the results are in general better compared to aviation or road transport, but the industry is heavily dependent on heavy fuel oil, known as HFO, the cheapest but also arguably the dirtiest fossil fuel ever invented. Not only is HFO virtually impossible to clean up after oil spills, particularly in cold waters such as the Arctic, but it is also highly polluting due to the high contents of air polluting and greenhouse gas emissions.
The options for the maritime sector to significantly decarbonize are limited. A lot of focus is put on reducing fuel consumption, due to energy efficient measures such as redesigning hulls and propellers, improving air lubrication and installing performance-management software. The main argument for vessel owners to adopt such measurements, is that reduced fuel consumption goes hand-in-hand with cost reduction.
But, vessel owners who combine capacity utilization, speed optimization and energy devices still only achieve a modest reduction of GHG emissions. Maximizing vessel size has reached its limit, with the biggest container vessels carrying more than 20,000 containers, equaling four football fields in a row. Also, speed optimization is difficult for vessel owners. After the crisis in 2008, the market had the flexibility to reduce speed, as the demand was low, and this resulted in reduced emission levels. However, as soon as the economy is picking up, the reverse effect will appear, resulting in speed increase and subsequently increased emission levels.
The options for alternative energy, such as wind power, batteries, hydrogen or fuel cells are still limited as well. Especially for deep-sea shipping this is still a longshot, and technical feasibility has not been proven before in trials or pilots. In addition to that, vessels have a long lifetime, so positive developments in the field of batteries and fuel cells will only be applicable for vessels to be built in the future. Batteries are easier to implement for passenger cars, due to the relatively limited range and requirements for intermediate charging. Considering the transport sector as a whole, it is aviation and deep-sea shipping that will remain dependent of liquid fuels for propulsion as longest.
In order to decarbonize these heavy modes of transport, fossil fuels need to be replaced with renewable, drop-in fuels. According to the IPCC, biofuels have no (or very little) net release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, as long as they are sustainably sourced and the carbon cycle is closed. Recently, the IPCC announced that significant investments in biofuels are required in order to keep climate change under control.
The solutions exist, but they need to be scaled.
According to the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA, 2015), biofuels will have a substantial role to play over the long run. “Technology learning for the production of advanced – or second and third generation – biofuels is increasing, making these fuels the most viable renewable energy option with the highest penetration rate for the shipping sector in the long term.”
Also DNV GL (2017), a globally operating, Norwegian class society for among others the energy, maritime, oil and gas industry, has announced that “if we are to significantly reduce emissions from shipping as an industry without using nuclear fuel, the only real option available todayis sustainable biofuels, as this is what today’s prime movers utilize.”
Almost four years ago, GoodFuels Marine, as a member of below50, entered as the first sustainable fuel supplier the marine market. With pioneers such as Royal Dutch dredging company Boskalis and technology group Wärtsilä, second-generation, advanced biofuels replaced fossil marine gas oil successfully. One major benefit next to the significant carbon reduction achieved, is the fact that the biofuels are drop-in fuels, meaning that no adjustments to engine, vessel or infrastructure are required and the ship owners continues to keep the option of reversibility. Recently, GoodFuels Marine has again achieved a major first, by developing a bio-HFO, in addition to the earlier introduced bio-MGO.
GoodFuels is convinced about the potential for scalability without compromising their very tough standards on sustainability. This product could be the gamechanger the industry is looking for, in order to accelerate the energy transition in shipping, and can help to cut the industry’s huge carbon footprint. Supported by some stunning A-brands on the cargo owner’s side and by some pioneering top-class shipowners, 2019 will most likely be the year of the fast rise of Bio-HFO.
So please continue to watch and support these developments!