Biofuels – The Marine Fuel of the Future is Here

December 7, 2020 |

By Teemu Jutila, Director of Engineering & Products, Auramarine

Special to The Digest

The marine fuel market is developing and expanding at an unprecedented rate, set against the backdrop of IMO decarbonisation targets; 50% reduction in emissions from 2008 levels by 2050, and a minimum reduction in carbon intensity per transport work of 40% by 2030, compared with 2008 levels. With low and zero carbon fuels set to deliver the emission reductions required to achieve this, new market demand has resulted in a range of ‘future low carbon fuels’ that are contending for viability and dominance in the everchanging marine energy supply chain.

Driving a significant uptake of ‘future fuels’, relies on a number of critical factors that will inspire confidence in ship owners, who – understandably – have concerns over the pace of change within the market. Firstly, the fuels must be financially viable; the cost of operations is ultimately a greater driving force that the moral principles of sustainability. And secondly, the fuel supply infrastructure needs to be in place and mature enough to accelerate transition.

One such existing future fuel which has made significant progress is biofuel.

In fact, most recently, Dirk Kronemeijer, CEO & Founder of GoodFuels, a market leading biofuels company, stated that ‘by 2030, biofuel will be ‘the biggest alternative fuel in the world’ and by 2050 it could meet 20%-25% of global bunker fuel requirements. Likewise, Alfa Laval has commenced extensive testing of marine biofuels and with many oil refiners turning to biofuel production, due to plateauing fuel demand, tightening environmental rules and overseas competition, biofuel production, investment and consequent uptake, is set to skyrocket over the next decade. In addition, The Finnish Maritime Industry also recently stated that biofuels “could also use the existing bunkering infrastructure with minor modifications, and therefore show a strong potential to replace part of the fuel mix“. To summarise, the opportunity is evident.

Advancing the industry’s uptake of biofuels

From Auramarine’s 45 years of expertise in designing and manufacturing fuel supply systems for a wide range of fuels, we also view biofuels as one of the most feasible and effective low carbon fuel options. Likewise, in order to support the uptake of future fuels, and further support ship owners in the transition, we recently joined the BioFlex project.

A three-year collaborative study funded by Business Finland, VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland, and enacted by participating companies that include Fortum, Neste and Wärtsilä, to determine the most ecologically and economically sustainable way to evolve the marine energy supply chain and replace fossil fuels.

Through comparing different methods of industrially producing fuel oil from things such as waste plastics or biomass and harvest residues from forestry and agriculture, the project aims to find the most cost effective and suitable biofuel for the marine market. Experiments will also be conducted via the project to examine the suitability of the oils for applications. Alongside research centres, fuel suppliers and engine manufactures, we endeavour to harness our expertise to progress the use of biofuels as a viable new source of energy and propulsion.

For example, with some biofuels being corrosive and wearing on metals, every element of material used in a vessel’s fuel supply system must be scrutinised and examined to ensure we are enabling a safe environment for the fuel and enhancing ship owner confidence.

Getting onboard with biofuels

With every ship unique in its design, purpose and history, it is critical that ship owners are able to easily access expert counsel as well as flexibility in approach to managing such a momentous change. Ultimately, if shipowners and operators fail to engage with experts and seek counsel on the implementation of biofuels in their vessel’s fuel supply systems, they risk potentially causing significant negative impacts on the safety, efficiency, and continuity of their operations.

Looking to the future

It is critical to understand the reticence that ship owners and operators inevitably have with the concept of change. We therefore fundamentally believe in the responsibility of suppliers, to adopt a partnership based approach and provide a diligent analysis, both tailored and flexible to guide them through all the critical elements of change.

Ultimately, biofuels will be a valuable component in the decarbonisation of the shipping industry. However, to fully realise their potential over the next decade, a thorough approach is required. One that consists of widespread industry collaboration, expert advice and consultancy, as well as on hand support for ship owners that rigorously uncovers every element of the infrastructure and technology required to deliver a viable biofuels supply chain; from global bunkering capabilities to the safe delivery of products from fuel supply systems to the engine inlet. No stone can be left unturned.

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