First the good news, a reasonable fossil-free low sulphur fuel has been tested and a long-term vision for carbon-free propulsion has been realised. The bad news is that we still don’t fully understand what refiners and bunker suppliers are putting in heavy fuel oil
This week has seen two steps closer to a sustainable low sulphur fuel future, and one step back.
The first of the two positive steps forward was the news that finally, someone has live tested an alternative to fossil-based fuel.
GoodFuels of Rotterdam has supplied a non-fossil based main engine fuel refined from recycled cooking oil. The fuel meets ISO standards for low sulphur fuel. The live trial was conducted this September on board Nord Highlander. The main engine was inspected after running ‘normal’ fossil fuel, and then steamed to Estonia using a range of engine loadings with the alternative fuel. After the voyage, the engine was inspected and was found to be unaffected by running the recycled cooking oil.
I wonder what the fumes smelt like? About a decade ago in the UK, there was a small subset of drivers that ran diesel-fuelled cars on cooking oil. It had been discovered that the older, non-electronic VW diesel engine would run quite happily on a blend of cheap cooking oil and diesel. The only downside was a strong ‘chip-shop’ smell from the exhaust.
Over the longer-term, the Elomatic and NYK 2050 project is both exciting and puzzling. I love the idea of dolphin-style paddles, and I believe this has been tried on some naval vessels. But the mass of control systems required leads me to believe we might see the return of ‘Sparks’ -- also known as the radio officer. These semi-autonomous ships will need a management team connecting the deck, engineering and the fleet operations centres.
Finally, there is the one step back.
We are still waiting on the results of any live testing of low sulphur blended fuels promised by the oil majors. Blended low sulphur marine fuel should begin to enter the market in Q4 2019 at the latest, and long before then we will need convincing that these will work.
It is frightening that after a thorough investigation by CIMAC, the root cause of the contamination of the fuel supplied to nearly 100 ships in the port of Houston area has not been resolved. If an organisation with the resources available of CIMAC is unable to pinpoint the cause, then we have already taken one step back before we even reach the mandatory introduction of new blended fuels in 2020.