Maersk is teaming up with big shippers to test a new marine fuel made from plant fibers that aims to mitigate ocean freight’s contribution to climate change.
The Copenhagen-based company said the pilot project will include automotive logistics company Wallenius Wilhelmsen, Copenhagen University, BMW Group, H&M Group, Levi Strauss & Co. and Marks & Spencer.
Together they plan to study the use of a blend of ethanol and lignin called LEO. Lignin is a plant fiber and a byproduct of ethanol production and pulp and paper mills. It is often incinerated to produce steam and electricity.
Copenhagen University is running the laboratory-scale development of this potential marine fuel. Testing the fuel on actual vessel engines could begin in the second quarter of 2020, according to Maersk.
“Shipping requires bespoke low-carbon fuel solutions which can make the leap from the laboratory to the global shipping fleet,” said Maersk Chief Operating Officer Soren Toft. “Initiatives such as the LEO Coalition are an important catalyst in this process.”
The testing of LEO comes on the heels of a study from Maersk and Lloyd’s Register that said biomass-based alcohols are among the most promising alternatives to crude-oil-based marine fuels.
The largest emitter of greenhouse gases in container shipping, Maersk has been actively testing alternative fuels. In June, Maersk trialed carbon-neutral shipping on a vessel powered by a cooking oil-heavy fuel mixture.
Helena Helmersson, Chief Operating Officer of H&M Group, which was part of the June biofuel trial, said the fast fashion retailer is “committed to reduce our impact in every aspect of our value chain, including how our products are shipped to consumers around the world.”
Maersk is also part of the Dutch Sustainable Growth Coalition (DSGC), a consortium of multinationals including Shell, Unilever, Philips and Heineken that are promoting the use of biofuels in shipping.
“Our customers’ ambitions on sustainability are increasing rapidly, and we applaud this development. Clearly, LEO would be a great step forward for supply chain sustainability, and it has the potential to be a viable solution for today’s fleet, and not just a future vision,” said Craig Jasienski, Wallenius Wilhelmsen Chief Executive Officer.