The Dutch biofuel leader GoodFuels has seen a number of significant wins that suggest this now relatively small part of the fuels mix could soon grow
In speculation about the future fuel mix, biofuels are often something of an afterthought. Other, more established fuels tend to dominate shipowners’ attention when they make their plans, while biofuels tend to be seen as an interesting, but currently impractical alternative.
One company seeking to transform this situation is GoodFuels. Led by CEO Dirk Dirk Kronemeijer, the company has established itself in recent years as a leader in the effort to make biofuels a viable and economic option in the marine spectrum. But this is not just in the future. As Mr Kronemeijer tells FL&ET: “We have a chance to compete with fossil fuels right now.”
GoodFuels Marine first came to prominence late in 2015, when it, Wärtsilä and shipowner Boskalis launched the Sustainable Marine Biofuel Initiative. This is a development programme for next-generation ‘drop in’ bio marine fuels that are ready-made replacements for fossil fuels, but are sustainable and have the potential to be scalable and affordable over the longer term. Over a period of two years, the consortium has been testing several next-generation biofuels at the Wärtsilä test facilities in Vaasa, a process that is to be followed by live testing on various ships within the Boskalis global fleet across different regions and ports.
Mr Kronemeijer explained: “The consortium was designed to accelerate the development of sustainable marine fuels that are truly sustainable. Initially the focus has been on ‘drop-in’ marine biofuels because we see them as an integral but currently missing part of the long-term marine fuel mix, next to other viable options such as (Bio)LNG. Our drop-in fuels should be suited to blend with MGO as we will do research and testing of straight biofuels as possible replacement of HFO in SECA areas."
Once options are found meeting all criteria (technical, sustainable, economical, and scalable) the plan is for the consortium to push for industry certification and large-scale production. Next to testing, the consortium is also initiating a global scalability study involving leading marine customers, universities, NGOs, ports, (bio)fuel companies, IMO and other leading players and institutes.
One outcome of the scheme has been the successful performance of live tests on a sustainable wood-based drop-in biofuel called UPM BioVerno. The fuel, supplied by Finnish UPM Biofuels, is the first-ever biofuel derived from wood residue to be used in a marine fleet.
Boskalis vessel Edax, a 1,696 dwt cutter suction dredger, successfully used the fuel in bio/fossil blends going up to 50 per cent as it worked on phase one of the Marker Wadden project in 2016. This resulted in a CO2 saving of 600 metric tonnes over the operating period.
Other pilot schemes have already taken place. In June, fuel containing 30 per cent biofuel was supplied by GoodFuels on board the 104 TEU barge For Ever (an inland barge transporting Heineken export beer) from the Heineken brewery in Zoeterwoude to the deep-sea terminals in Rotterdam. The transportation of the beer will dramatically reduce CO2 emissions by more than 25 per cent, while also sharply reducing harmful local emissions such as NOx and particulate matter.
Another initiative led by GoodFuels is designed to encourage cargo owners to purchase biofuel and accelerate the uptake of low-carbon fuels in the marine fuel mix. The GoodShipping Programme empowers cargo owners and shippers to take control of their carbon emissions without having to rely on the shipowner to change its fuel mix. Based on the level of sustainable ambition and/or available budget, the cargo owner determines the desired level of impact by indicating the percentage or part of its ocean freight volume the cargo owners wants to submit to the GoodShipping Programme.
On behalf of the cargo owner, the GoodShipping Program committee enables the fuel switch – replacing heavy fuel oil with sustainable marine biofuel on board a preselected container vessel operating on the preferred Good Trade Lane. The first Good Trade Lane connecting Europe to the rest of the world will be launched later this year.
Mr Kronemeijer explained: “Up until now, the only way ocean cargo owners could eliminate or substantially reduce the climate impact from ship operations was to select an energy-efficient carrier or to offset their carbon footprint outside the shipping industry. The big difference with other sustainability initiatives is that the GoodShipping Program actually changes the marine fuel mix, and thereby realises a carbon reduction within the industry. Every ocean cargo owner can participate in the GoodShipping Programme regardless of its volume, location, trade routes and existing contracts with carriers or freight forwarders.”
He remains acutely conscious, though, that the success of biofuels is ultimately in the hands of the carriers themselves. Mr Kronemeijer explained: “ They cannot drive the transition on their own: ultimately it needs to be facilitated by the maritime industry. It acts upon the collective responsibility for developing stable demand that can bring production to the next level. As such, the GoodShipping Program aims to improve the accessibility and affordability of low-carbon fuels to all carriers.”
A big step toward greater acceptance by the wider shipping industry occurred in September when GoodFuels and energy provider BHP signed a Letter of Intent to collaborate on a biofuels pilot project in Singapore.
Slated for operation next year, the project is part of a greater discussion on the use of biofuels as a sustainable alternative fuel. Singapore’s Maritime and Port Authority is seeking collaborative partnerships with shipowners on the bio-energy front, including finding solutions to barriers to the use of biofuels, given that Singapore is the largest bunkering hub in the world.
Mr Kronemeijer explained: “We are very proud that our biofuel footprint of supply locations and sustainable customers is spreading from Europe to the largest bunkering port in the world - and our first Asian partner as well. From now on, sustainable marine biofuels are available in Singapore for those ship and freight owners that want to eliminate their carbon and sulphur emissions.”
GoodFuels and its CEO are in no danger of resting on their laurels, though. New announcements are on the way. Indeed, Mr Kronemeijer expects "to welcome our first major cruise customer soon.”
Although currently only a small part of the marine fuel mix, sustainable marine biofuels offer ship operators a way to reduce a vessel’s CO2 emissions by 80-90 per cent. They eliminate SOx emissions, cut NOx emissions by up to 10 per cent and reduce particulate matter expelled in a ship’s exhaust plume by 50 per cent.
Current forecasts predict that marine biofuels could make up 5-10 per cent of the marine fuel mix by 2030.