The marine industry is one of the worst polluters in the world, making up around 3% of all carbon emissions yearly, equivalent to the total level of emissions from entire countries like Germany or Japan.
This is due to the shipping industry mostly running on fossil fuels like oil and natural gas. The industry currently uses around 300 million tonnes of fossil fuels a year. If nothing is done, this is due to get worse, as shipping levels are predicted to vastly increase by 2050. If the industry doesn’t address its pollution problem, it will hasten climate change on a dramatic scale.
Luckily, there are alternative, cleaner fuels the industry is looking at to lower its carbon footprint. One such alternative is biofuel, which is abundant, easy to store, transport, and use, and doesn’t pollute as much as fossil fuels. While not as clean as truly green energy like solar power, biofuels can work as a good stopgap solution while the industry shifts away from traditional fuels like oil and gas.
Liquid biofuel demand is predicted to grow to 3.4 million boepd (barrel of oil equivalent per day) in 2030, and 5.3 million boepd by 2050, so it’s clear biofuels have a big future in the marine industry.
Biofuels are a sustainable fuel source produced from renewable biomass: things like vegetable oils, animal waste, crop residues, and food waste.
When used in the marine industry, biofuel is typically in a liquid form, but it can be gaseous as well.
The three most common biofuels are:
HVO (hydrotreated vegetable oil), also known as renewable diesel
FAME (fatty acid methyl ester), also known as biodiesel
The three fuels that are most used in shipping are HVO, FAME, and bioLNG, which is liquefied biomethane produced from biomass.
HVO is made by taking vegetable oils and fats and removing the oxygen from them in a chemical reaction, using hydrogen to produce renewable diesel. HVO is available in its pure form or as a blend.
FAME is the most commonly used biofuel quality in shipping and, like HVO, can be derived from various vegetable oils, used cooking oil, or animal fats. It is made using a process called transesterification, which converts the fatty acids to biodiesel in a reaction with methanol. FAME is available as a pure product or as a blend.
BioLNG is produced by liquefying biomethane made from biogas, which can be produced from animal waste, crop residues, and food waste.
One of the main reasons why biofuels are going to be introduced in shipping is because they will reduce the industry’s overall emission levels. This is important as in 2018, the International Maritime Organisation launched its Greenhouse Gas strategy. The strategy recommended that the shipping industry must reduce its total annual emissions by at least 50% of 2008 levels by 2050, with an emphasis towards zero emissions.
Biofuel blends can reduce carbon emissions by anywhere from 5-25%, so can help to reduce pollution while cleaner fuel methods are developed and improved.
While biofuel can be expensive today, the price is lowering as production becomes easier, and more widespread.
Conversely, fossil fuels can only get more expensive as the supply dwindles. Eventually, it will cease to make economic sense to run a fleet on fossil fuels, as biofuels will be cheaper and easier to acquire.
Biofuels provide a simple, flexible solution to the shipping industry’s pollution problem while more long-term methods are researched.
Read more about marine sustainability, or learn about how the gas shortage will impact the marine industry.
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