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Maersk Triple-E vessel to sail on biofuel

30 April 2019

Maritime transport (sea transport) carries around 90% of the global trade. While the greenhouse gas emissions from shipping is much lower than other modes of transport at around 3% of total global emissions, this share could more than triple by 2050 if additional measures are not taken to reduce these emissions.

Since the 1960’s the International Maritime Organization (IMO) has been working to reduce the harmful impacts of shipping on the environment and in 2018 adopted a strategy for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions from ships by at least 50% by 2050 in comparison with 2008 emission levels.

The main changes to MARPOL Annex VI are a progressive reduction globally in emissions of SOx, NOx and particulate matter and the introduction of emission control areas (ECAs) to reduce emissions of those air pollutants further in designated sea areas.

In 2016, at the 70th session of the Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC) meeting in London, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) took a landmark decision setting 1st January 2020 as the implementation date for a significant reduction in the sulphur content of the fuel oil used by ships.

As per this decision, MARPOL Annex VI has been revised, lowering the current global limit for sulphur content of marine fuels from 3.50% to 0.50% as from the 1st of January 2020.

In line with this requirement and in an effort to reach its net zero CO2 target by 2050, Maersk Line will be teaming up with a group known as Dutch Sustainable Growth Coalition (DSGC) consisting of Dutch multinationals – Friesland Campina, Heineken, Philips, DSM, Shell and Unilever (many of them Maersk Line’s customers) on a pilot project to test the use of second generation biofuels.

As part of this plan, one of Maersk’s Triple-E series vessels will proceed from Rotterdam to Shanghai, a distance of around 25,000 nautical miles between March and June 2019, fuelled only by biofuel blends. While this is not the first incidence of ships using biofuel, this certainly will be a world first on this scale.

This pilot project is expected to save an estimated 1.5 million kilograms of CO2 and 20,000 kilograms of sulphur and as per the operator of this project (Maersk Line), the CO2 savings of this journey alone equates to the annual CO2 emitted by over 200 households in a year or 12 million kms by car ( equal to 300 times around the world).

As per Maersk, the biofuel used in this pilot is a “second generation” biofuel, produced from waste sources, in this case used cooking oil (UCO).Second generation biofuel is derived from waste products including but not limited to used cooking oil, forest residues, wood chip waste etc and is ISCC Certified.

This type of biofuel is capable of being blended with fossil fuels or to a certain extent replace it without the need of major technical variations to the engines. Sustainably sourced second generation biofuels are one of the solutions towards reducing CO2 emissions in shipping.

Continuous investment, R&D, breakthroughs in fuel and technical development are still required to achieve the emissions reductions required. “DSGC companies join in action to contribute to the UN SDGs. With this initiative we focus on Climate Action (SDG 13). We have taken the initiative to partner with A.P. Moller-Maersk on this important effort.

This pilot testing biofuel on a cross ocean shipping lane, marks an important step. However, many more innovations are urgently needed. These can only be successfully developed, tested and implemented in industry collaborations like this,” says Jan Peter Balkenende, Chair of the DSGC.

Soren Toft, Chief Operating Officer A.P. Moller – Maersk commented “To reach our net zero CO2 target by 2050, in the next 10 years we need big breakthroughs. Maersk cannot do this alone.

That is why this collaboration with DSGC and its members is such an important step in identifying and bringing low carbon solutions to life. It laid the foundation for how cross-industry partners can work together to take steps towards a more sustainable future. We welcome others to join in our efforts, as this journey is just beginning.”

“Biofuels are one of the viable solutions that can be implemented in the short and medium term. Through this pilot, we aim to learn more about using biofuels in general, and to understand the possibilities around increasing its usage in a sustainable and economical way,” added Soren Toft.

Shell will provide the fuel for this pilot project initiated by the DSGC while Maersk Line will be the operator. The Triple-E series vessels are seen as the ideal choice for this project as the three Es stand for Energy efficiency, Economies of scale and Environmental safeguards.

As a point of interest, Triple-E vessels are capable of travelling around 184 kms using 1 kWh of energy per ton of cargo, whereas a jumbo jet can travel only half a kilometre using the same 1 kWh of energy per ton of cargo. Triple-E ships are said to emit 20% less CO2 per container shipped compared to their immediate predecessor Emma Maersk and 50% less than many other ships.

These savings are attributed to an extremely energy-efficient engine, a uniquely designed hull and a state-of-the art waste heat recovery system and the economies of scale created by the size of the ship.

Certainly an interesting pilot project to watch and who knows, the future may be upon us before we even know it.

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This article first appeared in Export & Import Southern Africa: http://www.exportsa.co.za/