HullWiper | Biofueling a sea of change

Biofueling a sea of change

13 Jun 2023

13 Jun23 Bio Fueling a sea of change

Authored by HullWiper.

The shipping industry is navigating a complex regulatory landscape as it strives to meet the ambitious decarbonisation goals set by the International Maritime Organization (IMO). These goals aim to reduce carbon emissions by 40% by 2030 and 70% by 2050 compared to 2008 levels, aligning with United Nations targets. Several environmental regulations, including the Carbon Intensity Calculator (CII), Energy Efficiency Existing Ship Index (EEXI) and Ship Energy Efficiency Management Plan (SEEMP), which became mandatory as of January 1, 2023, are crucial in achieving these targets.

Whilst HullWiper’s hull cleaning service delivers huge fuel savings benefit, what about the actual fuel itself? In response to the pressing need for greener practices, the maritime community is actively exploring sustainable operational solutions, with biofuels emerging as a promising alternative to traditional bunker fuels such as heavy fuel oil (HFO), marine gas oil (MGO), and marine diesel oil (MDO). Biofuels, including Fatty Acid Methyl Ester (FAME), Biomass-to-Liquid (BTL) fuels, and Hydrogenated Vegetable Oil/Hydrogenation-Derived Renewable Diesel (HVO/HDRD), offer numerous advantages over marine fuels with reduced emissions of sulfur oxide (SOx) and nitrogen oxide (NOx). They hold significant potential for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and mitigating the sector's impact on climate change.

Around 2-3% of the world's CO2 emissions are attributed to shipping, with bunker fuels cited as one of the main contributors of these emissions. Over 95% of operating ships use internal combustion engines fueled by conventional petroleum products, according to "The shipping industry’s fuel choices on the path to net zero" report by Maersk McKinney, Global Maritime Forum and Global Centre for Maritime Decarbonisation. Given the current fuel options available in the market, biofuels looks set to be a viable alternative fuels option.

Yet, despite its potential benefits, their adoption remains limited within the shipping industry, underscoring the need for further industry-wide collaboration and support. Limited availability, lack of infrastructure and cost of biofuels are key factors resulting in the low maritime application of this sustainable energy source.

Breaking the biofuel supply barrier

Currently, there is a lack of production capacities and distribution infrastructure necessary for large-scale usage of biofuels. Without a reliable and consistent supply of biofuels, widespread adoption remains a challenge.

“Even if we wanted to run ships on neat biodiesel, there is not enough production to support its widespread use,” said Dr Michael D. Kass from the Energy Science & Technology Directorate at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in the USA who presented at CMA Shipping 2023.

This issue is being addressed by many groups. Collaborative efforts between industry stakeholders, governments, and research institutions can drive the development of a robust biofuel supply chain and address the challenges of limited availability.

Foremost, it is essential to invest in the necessary infrastructure from end-to-end. By enhancing production capacities and establishing efficient distribution networks, the shipping industry can ensure a steady supply of this sustainable energy source to meet growing demands. This, in turn, will facilitate the broader adoption of biofuels and contribute to the industry's decarbonisation efforts.

Higher production costs of biofuels compared to traditional fossil fuels also presents a significant obstacle. Shipping companies operate within narrow profit margins, and the price differential between biofuels and conventional marine fuels poses an economic challenge. The substantial quantities of fuel required by ships further magnifies the cost disparity. Overcoming this barrier requires innovative solutions to enhance the cost-effectiveness of biofuels, along with supportive policies that incentivise their utilisation.

Continuous research and development efforts are vital to overcome the barriers hindering biofuel adoption in the shipping industry. Advancements in biofuel technologies, such as diversifying feedstocks and improving production processes, can enhance their performance, efficiency, and availability. Increased investment in research and development will lead to the development of more efficient and cost-effective biofuels, making it a practical and attractive choice for the shipping industry to achieve its decarbonisation goals.

Regulations relating to decarbonisation has a direct impact on the adoption of alternative fuels in the shipping industry. It is still evolving, hence lacks clarity and consistency when it comes to biofuels -and we have a colleague that knows a thing or two about this! Martyn McMahon, Global Director of GAC Bunker Fuels says, "We are seeing a kind of regulatory whack-a-mole developing, with the introduction of legislation to curb one problem being offset elsewhere in another form"

Establishing clear policies and regulations is crucial to encourage the use of biofuels, provide incentives and create a level playing field with conventional fuels. McMahon emphasises the need for widespread investment in newer, readily available alternative forms of energy and shifting the source of bunker fuel to something greener and cleaner. A supportive regulatory framework will encourage shipping companies to invest in the necessary infrastructure and technologies for biofuel utilisation.

In addition to addressing supply barriers, overcoming compatibility issues and modifications to vessels are essential steps towards maximising the potential of biofuels. Retrofitting ships to accommodate biofuels involves additional costs and technical challenges. Ensuring compatibility between different types of biofuels as well as existing engines and fuel systems is another key aspect to be addressed. These are necessary investments to enable a smoother transition to more sustainable fuel options.

Riding the green wave

The adoption of biofuels in the shipping industry holds immense potential for reducing carbon emissions, mitigating environmental impact, and achieving ambitious decarbonisation goals. It also contributes to the industry's overall environmental stewardship and commitment to sustainable shipping.

Addressing the challenges of limited availability, cost, regulatory frameworks, compatibility, and infrastructure requires the unified efforts of industry stakeholders, policymakers, researchers, and fuel producers. It is through these collective endeavours that the shipping industry can play a significant role in biofueling a sea of change towards a greener and more sustainable future for all; and throughout, HullWiper will still be cleaning vessels bottoms and saving biofuel for the ships operators and owners.