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Covid-19 can act as a catalyst for shipping to meet its carbon goals

Posted 28.09.2020
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In the coming years, our sector needs to dramatically accelerate its alternative fuels and technology development — with the former of these acknowledged as being the main driving force behind the radical transformation that shipping needs. Covid-19 has recontextualised this urgent transformation and is placing it under immense stress. Some are arguing that shipping may turn back from its decarbonisation goals and focus on other priorities.

However, there is more discussion arising that says the current world health and economic situation may be the massive galvanising push that our sector needs to meet the goals laid out by the International Maritime Organization (IMO). Shipping’s decarbonisation target hinges on the development of alternative fuels. And while some of these may seem far off, there are already existing solutions on the market that can help leading owners, operators and cargo owners to meaningfully and easily improve their sustainability and reduce their environmental impact.

For the past five years, GoodFuels has focused on realising the widescale use of sustainable marine biofuel, which has enabled us to develop a carbon-busting solution that is scalable, truly sustainable, technically compliant and affordable. We believe biofuels are a true solution to shipping’s challenges, which can be used today. We work closely with feedstock owners, technology developers, research institutes and universities to bring innovations from the lab to commercial application, which enables us to develop high-quality, sustainable, scalable and affordable biofuels. In 2018, we launched our Bio Fuel-Oil (also known as BFO or GoodFuels MR1-100), which is the first ever residual fuel-equivalent biofuel that is sustainably sourced and completely derived from sustainable waste and residue products. Importantly for the uptake of the fuel, our sustainable biofuel requires no changes to marine engines. The biofuel “drops in” to normal fuel tanks, virtually eliminating all (80-90% well-to propeller) carbon emissions, compared with fossil equivalents. Alongside supporting the industry’s impending decarbonisation goals and due to the absence of sulphur, BFO is also a viable alternative to both distillates (due to the lack of Sulphur) and Ultra Low Sulphur Fuel Oil.

Our BFO is a marine specific product. However, clearly there is an immediate urgency to reduce the carbon footprint from transport in all segments, which is why we supply our sustainable biofuels not only to marine. We aim to support all hard to-decarbonise sectors next to shipping, including road, rail and air. There are a variety of ways to produce biofuels, but generally they are made by breaking down the molecules in the plant through different processes. The resulting products are then refined and can be made into different biofuels. Ours are produced from certified feedstocks that are labelled as waste or residue and they do not interfere with food production or deforestation. As we have various biofuels in our portfolio, the production processes can vary significantly, but for all biofuels the footprint from production is included in the total carbon reduction calculation. Moreover, our production capacity differs depending on particular fuels. We are continuously working with our partners across the fuels and bunker markets to scale up refining capacity for all different biofuels, as we see demand increasing steadily. Scaling up demand is important, because biofuel is more than a bridging fuel; we expect that marine biofuels will constitute up to 10-15% of the future marine fuel mix by 2030. Our approach has been based on working with leading owners, operators and charterers to help accelerate uptake of the fuel.

In March 2020, we announced that Stena Bulk had joined our list of valued first movers and we kicked off with a first test of BFO on Stena Bulk’s 49,646-deadweight tonne Suezmax tanker Stena Immortal. She received the first delivery of “drop in” BFO during her call at the Port of Rotterdam and the fuel was used to power her main engine, with the ultimate aim of further testing the technical and operational feasibility of BFO. The trial marks yet another important test of our BFO with a leading market player and is another crucial move towards offering the shipping industry a credible near-zero carbon alternative to fossil fuels. It reflects a level of ambition from Stena Bulk about how quickly the company wants to work towards shipping’s decarbonisation goals and, once again, proves that we have market-ready solutions available to help reduce the carbon impact of our operations. Now the successful trial on Stena Immortal is completed, we will continue to work with Stena Bulk to gain more experience.

As we are also continuing our collaborations with other partners within the tanker segment, such as Norden, we are effectively exploring options for upscaling the usage of marine biofuel, as an alternative to conventional fossil-based fuel. As mentioned, Stena Bulk joins a group of other leading owners and operators who have been progressive leading lights as we work to scale up biofuel usage. Last year, GoodFuels announced that our BFO product was being used in a landmark trial with IKEA, CMA CGM and GoodShipping. In March 2019, we were proud to make the world’s first refuelling of a container ship with marine biofuel. Under the joint trial, sustainable BFO was used in a blend with conventional fossil-based marine fuels to power one of CMA CGM’s container ships on a major oceangoing route. Applications of the BFO again showed a positive result, thus proving the technical compatibility of sustainable marine biofuels.

What this reveals — and at the heart of our approach — is a mantra based on working across the maritime industry’s key segments to scale up the use of biofuel. Because biofuel is “drop in”, it can work with any vessel type; a fact that is becoming increasingly recognised in the maritime industry’s owner/operator community. However, owners and operators are not the only parties realising that they have important roles to play. Cargo owners and shippers are also coming under increasing scrutiny for their choices in the supply chain and are becoming keen to show consumers their environmental credentials through the use of sustainable transportation.

This is one of the reasons GoodFuels created the aforementioned GoodShipping three years ago, which supports cargo owners to commit to a reduction in their sea freight CO2 emissions. The initiative works on the premise that, as all CO2 from shipping is emitted into the same atmosphere, the means of mitigating these emissions is equally impactful, regardless of which vessels adopt biofuels over traditional bunker fuels — or the amount of “drop in” biofuel that is added to the fuel tank (concept of mass-balance), as long as it offsets the CO2 costs of transporting participating shippers’ cargo. Shippers benefit from becoming GoodShipping pioneers because this part of the supply chain was previously something that they did not have control over or would not have any say in.

Typically, these are organisations with strong public brands and whose customers are demanding more information about how a product reaches them. This gives them a way to make an immediate impact and improve the sustainability of their supply chains — and support the acceleration of the energy transition in shipping and other transportation sectors we operate in.

GoodShipping has already seen tremendous success and interest, and this is a reflection of the increasing visibility that we all find ourselves operating under. All of this shows that the momentum for decarbonisation in shipping is reaching a critical mass, with many owners and operators deeply invested in improving their own sustainability and reaching the IMO’s targets. We must not let Covid-19 derail these efforts, but should instead use the current situation as the force we need to accelerate these changes. The work of first movers in doing so will be vital in the years to come.

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