Charting New Courses with Low-Carbon Fuels
To address this challenge, the maritime sector is exploring a range of low-carbon fuel options, each with its unique promise and potential. These fuels offer a glimmer of hope in the industry's quest for greener operations. Let's delve into some of the promising alternatives:
- Biofuels: Bio-based fuels are derived from organic materials such as algae, waste biomass, and agricultural residues. They hold the promise of significantly reducing carbon emissions when compared to traditional fossil fuels. However, ensuring a consistent supply of feedstock and scaling production are essential challenges that need to be addressed.
- Methanol: Methanol, a versatile chemical, is gaining traction as a maritime fuel. It can be produced from renewable sources, making it a potential candidate for reducing carbon emissions. However, infrastructure upgrades and stringent safety measures are prerequisites for its widespread adoption.
- Ammonia: Ammonia has emerged as a potential zero-emission fuel for the maritime sector. Produced using renewable energy, it holds the promise of delivering clean power. Yet, it poses challenges related to its safe handling and distribution.
- Hydrogen: Hydrogen, often hailed as the "fuel of the future," is being explored for maritime applications. Green hydrogen, produced using renewable energy, could be a game-changer in reducing carbon emissions. However, developing the infrastructure for hydrogen production, storage, and distribution remains a significant hurdle.
- bioLNG (Liquefied Natural Gas): bioLNG, a cleaner-burning fossil fuel, is already being used in some maritime applications. While it offers emissions reductions compared to traditional bunker fuels, it's not a zero-emission solution and must be seen as a transitional step. bioLNG however does represent and significant step forwards for the maritime in the all important quest to achieve net-zero.
IMO’s Ambition vs. Reality
The International Maritime Organization (IMO) has set commendable targets: a 40% reduction in CO2 emissions per transport work by 2030 and hopes for a 70% reduction by 2050 compared to 2008. Yet, these guidelines remain non-binding.
Encouragement can be drawn from the high-profile initiatives being undertaken by some of the sector’s majors to introduce at a commercial level these new low-carbon fuels in parallel with new infrastructure investment (vessels, bunkering, fuel supply chains). These important commitments are leading the way forward.
Europe leads the way forward
Recently adopted by the European Council, fresh regulations have been introduced with the goal of aligning maritime transportation with the European Union's climate objectives for 2030 and 2050. These regulations are set to play a pivotal role in upholding the European climate law. The central aim of the FuelEU maritime initiative, which is an integral component of the EU's Fit for 55 plan, is to stimulate greater adoption and consistent utilization of renewable and low-carbon fuels while simultaneously curbing greenhouse gas emissions within the shipping industry. All of this must be achieved while ensuring the seamless operation of maritime traffic and preventing disruptions in the internal market.
The new regulation contains the following main provisions:
- measures to ensure that the greenhouse gas intensity of fuels used by the shipping sector will gradually decrease over time, by 2% in 2025 to as much as 80% by 2050
- a special incentive regime to support the uptake of the so-called renewable fuels of non-biological origin (RFNBO) with a high decarbonisation potential
- an exclusion of fossil fuels from the regulation’s certification process
- an obligation for passenger ships and containers to use on-shore power supply for all electricity needs while moored at the quayside in major EU ports as of 2030, with a view to mitigating air pollution in ports, which are often close to densely populated areas
- a voluntary pooling mechanism, under which ships will be allowed to pool their compliance balance with one or more other ships, with the pool – as a whole - having to meet the greenhouse gas intensity limits on average
- time-limited exceptions for the specific treatment of the outermost regions, small islands, and areas economically highly dependent on their connectivity
- revenues generated from the regulation’s implementation (‘FuelEU penalties’) should be used for projects in support of the maritime sector’s decarbonisation with an enhanced transparency mechanism
- monitoring of the regulation’s implementation through the Commission’s reporting and review process
(source : Council of the European Union)
Navigating Challenges in Adoption
Transitioning to sustainable fuels, however, isn't without its challenges. These include:
- Feedstock Availability: Access to consistent and adequate sources for biofuel production.
- Distribution Constraints: The global distribution of feedstock varies, impacting supply chains.
- Infrastructure Upgrade: Modernizing port and vessel infrastructure to handle these new fuels is a daunting but not insurmountable task
- Scaling Production: Scaling the production of low-carbon fuels to meet global demands is another significant task.
Pioneers Leading the Way
Despite the challenges, the maritime sector isn't waiting. Bold initiatives from major players are propelling the industry towards sustainability. Bio360 Expo 2024 will showcase some of these front-runners, demonstrating their commitment to change.
For example, Maersk's ambition to have a carbon-neutral vessel on the seas by 2030 is groundbreaking. These kinds of bold steps by industry giants give a promising glimpse into the sector's future. CMA CMG is also pushing forward hard with bioLNG with the promise of reducing CO2 emissions by 67% (from well to wake).
While the International Maritime Organization (IMO) has set ambitious targets for reducing carbon intensity, these measures are non-binding. The maritime industry's progress toward sustainability is largely driven by bold initiatives from industry leaders.
Many major players in the shipping industry are taking proactive steps to reduce their carbon footprint. These initiatives range from adopting cleaner fuels to investing in innovative vessel designs that prioritize energy efficiency.
Partnerships between governments, research institutions, and industry stakeholders are fostering innovation in low-carbon technologies and fuels. These collaborations aim to accelerate the transition to cleaner maritime practices.