Skip to main content

Understanding the Opportunities of Biofuels for Marine Shipping

This workshop examines the potential benefits, feasibility, and barriers to the use of biofuels in place of heavy fuel oil (HFO) and marine gas oil for marine vessels. More than 90% of world’s shipped goods
travel by marine cargo vessels powered by internal combustion (diesel) engines using primarily low-cost residual HFO, which is high in sulfur content. Recognizing that marine shipping is the largest source of
anthropogenic sulfur emissions and is a significant source of other pollutants including particulates, nitrogen oxides, and carbon dioxide (CO2), the International Maritime Organization enacted regulations to
lower the fuel sulfur content from 3.5 wt.% to 0.5 wt.% in 2020. These regulations require ship operators either to use higher-cost, low-sulfur HFO or to seek other alternatives for reducing sulfur emissions (i.e.,
scrubbers, natural gas, distillates, and/or biofuels). The near-term options for shipowners to comply with regulations include fueling with low-sulfur HFO or distillate fuels or installing emissions control systems.
However, few refineries are equipped to produce low-sulfur HFO. Likewise, the current production rates of distillates do not allow the necessary expansion required to fuel the world fleet of shipping vessels
(which consume around 330 million metric tons). This quantity is more than twice that used in the United States for cars and trucks. The other near-term option is to install emission control systems, which also
requires a significant investment. All of these options significantly increase operational costs. Because of such costs, biofuels have become an attractive alternative since they are inherently low in sulfur and
potentially also offer greenhouse gas benefits. Based on this preliminary assessment, replacing HFO in large marine vessels with minimally processed, heavy biofuels appears to have potential as a path to
reduced emissions of sulfur, CO2, and criteria emissions. Realizing this opportunity will require deeper knowledge of (1) the combustion characteristics of biofuels in marine applications, (2) their compatibility
for blending with conventional marine fuels (including HFO), (3) needs and costs for scaling up production and use, and (4) a systems assessment of their life cycle environmental impacts and costs. It is
recommended that a research program investigating each of these aspects be undertaken to better assess the efficacy of biofuels for marine use.

Author
Mike Kass , Zia Abdullah , Mary Biddy , Corinne Drennan , Troy Hawkins , Susanne Jones , Johnathan Holladay , Dough Longman , Emily Newes , Tim Theiss , Tom Thompson , Michael Wang
Publication Year
Bioenergy Category
Keywords
Lab
Organization
Funded from the U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, Bioenergy Technologies Office.