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Will biofuels become a significant alternative fuel for shipping?

Will biofuels become a significant alternative fuel for shipping?
When it comes to alternative fuel for ships LNG and batteries have received the most public attention, but GoodFuels is pushing another alternative – biofuels – which it believes will become a significant part of the fuel mix for shipping in the future.

Rotterdam headquartered GoodFuels has developed what it describes as a “drop-in” marine bio-fuel, which can be used on existing vessels without the need for retro-fitting.

Speaking to Seatrade Maritime News Michael Schaap, commercial director of GoodFuels Marine, explains, “Our biofuels are a ‘drop in’ fuel - put simply, they blend seamlessly with traditional fossil fuels. This means that biofuels have a low barrier to entry, as they require no infrastructure investment and current power and propulsion systems can remain in place.”

All that is required is a standard fuel tank and ex-pipe facility at the berth or a bunker barge.

As with LNG biofuels offer a 100% reduction SOx emissions, but they can also provide up to a 90% reduction in CO2 emissions compared to fossil fuels, an area in which shipping is facing increasing pressure.

Schaap also stresses the sustainability of its biofuels and says it, “assures customers that no biofuel streams that are in competition with food sources or that are otherwise unethical will be used in the final product”.

Not surprisingly GoodFuels initial focus is on areas where the environment and emissions from a shipping are already in focus such as Northern Europe, the Nordic region and West Coast US. The company is also looking at Asia and recently visited Singapore, which is home to the world’s largest biofuel plant.

In terms of pricing Schaap says, “At present the price of biofuels is just over the price of MGO - how much over depends on volume, logistics and geographical deployment – but Phase 2 and Phase 3 biofuels coming on-stream over the next few years are envisaged to be cheaper than MGO.” As with other alternative fuels subsidies and reduced port dues are also a factor.

He says that premium MGO replacement biofuels are already available in Amsterdam and Rotterdam and that there has been “considerable uptake” but does not exactly how many vessels are using biofuels.

“GoodFuels Marine’s recent collaboration with the Dutch coastguard to supply biofuels for use in their vessels is a tangible example of the constantly increasing demand for biofuels. We are working with Boskalis, our launch customer, to have biofuels available in other locations as well soon.”

Dredgers are a vessel type the company sees as suited to biofuels working on government contracts close to sure where environmental credentials can be key. It also a market in vessels that operate in ports such as workboats and tugboats, shortsea shipping in Europe, and ferries and cruiseships.

Asked about how he sees the market developing Schaap says: Over the next five years, we believe that the market will trend towards greater adoption of biofuels as a real part of the marine fuel mix.” Longer-term estimates have put biofuels at 5% to 10% of the marine fuel mix.

This is a significant volume and brings the question as whether there is the capacity supply the quantities of biofuels that would be required by the shipping industry.

“There are a number of streams that readily offer themselves up as a feedstock, some only a small step away from full-scale commercial use. Large industrial residues from the paper and pulp industry are already being converted into fuel for other sectors; the shipping industry could initially start with these.

“By the careful management of blending and supply, and by keeping hold of the reins on quality and quantity, biofuels can be refined in enough amounts for the fuel to become a wide-scale alternative marine fuel.”