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Sustainable biofuels are reshaping the passenger ship fuel mix

Mon 13 Jun 2016 by Dirk Kronemeijer

Sustainable biofuels are reshaping the passenger ship fuel mix
Dirk Kronemeijer is chief executive of GoodFuels

Emissions regulations are tightening. If they are not already in force, like emission control areas and the European Union’s monitoring, reporting and verification rules, they are fast approaching – such as the global 0.5 per cent sulphur cap which is likely to be introduced in 2020.

Add to this initiatives such as the Environmental Ship Index (ESI) – a scheme adopted by nearly 40 ports that evaluates NOx and SOx emissions and rewards clean vessels with a reduction in port dues – and IMO’s NOx Tier III regulations, and it is clear that the momentum for environmental change is gathering tremendous pace.

More than any other sector in the industry, the public-facing nature of passenger shipping means that it must focus not only on compliance, but also on being associated with environmental excellence. The operational nature of passenger ships is also a consideration. No other vessels call at more ports or pay more port dues, with the result that the ESI is rapidly gaining importance for operators looking to realise savings wherever they can.

The combination of tightening environmental legislation and consumer demand for vessels that are more environment friendly is prompting shipowners to explore ways of achieving fleet-wide emissions reductions – for existing as well as future vessels. It is not going to be efficient or effective for the industry to concentrate solely on newbuilds. Instead, owners and operators must look at ways to make their existing fleets more eco efficient.

One solution that is already on the market, that meets all of these environmental requirements, is sustainable marine biofuels.

A direct replacement for fossil fuels, biofuels significantly reduce emissions, eliminating SOx, reducing particulate matter by 50 per cent, achieving a 10 per cent reduction and reducing CO2 emissions by 80 per cent.

There are other compelling factors, too. The ability to use ‘drop in’ fuel – put simply, to blend marine biofuels with traditional fossil fuels – is one of them. This critical feature ensures that existing logistical and operational systems can remain in place and every party can carry on business as usual.

This, of course, means that sustainable biofuel requires no investment in infrastructure. All that is required is a standard fuel tank and the shoreside infrastructure that already exists.

In addition, biofuels are a clean, high performance fuel that produces less sludge waste and requires less engine maintenance.

Current estimates project that biofuels will make up 5-10 per cent of the future marine fuel mix by 2030, alongside other alternative fuels such as liquefied natural gas (LNG). In this respect they offer a benefit, too – buying owners time to decide whether to invest in LNG for propulsion while waiting for clearer market trends to emerge.

Biofuels are a solution both for newbuilds and, crucially, for the substantial tonnage that is already in service. It is in these older vessels that biofuels can help bridge the gap for owners and operators, while the still-developing and somewhat uncertain field of legislation settles – not to mention the price of oil.

Shipping may be the last of the major transport modes to turn its attention to biofuels as a way of reducing its emissions. But as the benefits become clearer, the industry’s appetite for this solution is increasing and there is little doubt that truly sustainable marine biofuels have a critical role to play in the future fuel mix.

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