World’s biggest shipping line trials a backhaul voyage with biofuel in a bid to get jump on 2050 target for shipping industry to go zero carbon.
Maersk (Nasdaq OMX: MAER.B) and its partners are set to launch a decarbonisation pilot project that will begin this week with the departure of an ultra-large container ship (ULCS) from Rotterdam, en route to Shanghai using biofuels.
Partnering with eight multinational companies that established the Dutch Sustainable Growth Coalition (DSGC) in 2012, Maersk has agreed to sail one of the first ULCSs, the 18,000 twenty-foot equivalent unit (TEU) Mette Maersk on a return journey using up to 20 percent sustainable second-generation biofuels that will save 1,500 tons of carbon and 20 tons of sulfur in a single voyage.
According to David Samad, Senior Manager in Maersk’s Technical Innovation Group and project lead on this initiative, the DSGC aims “to drive sustainable growth by combining economic profitability with environmental and social progress — and in that way contribute to the [United Nation’s] Social Development Goals (SDGs).”
Mette Maersk, under the captaincy of Thomas Hvilborg, will operate as normal, except with the biofuel on board and that is a world first at this scale said Maersk. But, Samad points out that there are “commercial considerations, technical aspects, and operations involved with a 20 percent biofuel blend cannot be understated. We are running this test on one of the largest vessels in operations today for 25,000 nautical miles. This pilot takes a tangible step towards decarbonizing ocean transport, but there is still a long way to go.”
The pilot project will give the DSGC partners a holistic view of operations on biofuels and will help the group to develop its future strategy with regard to biofuels with the practical testing that and the group wants to send a clear message to the market that a decarbonized maritime industry can be achieved in a comparatively short period of time “and that vertically integrated collaboration is the key to get there”.
The biofuel used on Mette Maersk is essentially modified waste cooking oil that through its lifecycle will decrease carbon emissions by 85 percent compared to heavy fuel oil (HFO) and has no sulfur in its composition. Second generation biofuels can be generated from waste foods, wood chips and other sources and can be blended with existing fuels without having to adapt the engine.
However, these fuels can pose some challenges, in particular due to the fuel blend’s solvency and detergency. Maersk said these are known problems with this type of biofuel, and that the company has mitigated the risks involved through the storage of spare parts and additional monitoring onboard.
The International Maritime Organization (IMO) took the ambitious decision last year to reduce carbon emissions from the maritime sector by 50 percent of 2008 levels, and to achieve that by 2050. Maersk announced in December that it wanted to be more ambitious still and is aiming to be carbon neutral by the same date.
With that goal in mind Samad said Maersk is “taking a very broad view of decarbonized fuel options for marine application – options for the short, medium, and long term. Biofuels can be one possible solution, either as a transition fuel or a piece of the puzzle.”
Samad emphasises that the liner shipping company can only achieve this goal in collaboration with regulators, equipment manufacturers, fuel providers, start-ups, ship owners, and customers.
“We will continue to focus on further efficiency gains and new technology, but decarbonized fuels will be the long-term answer. This is why we are committed to the cause and have called for cross-industry collaboration,” he added.
DSGC members involved in this specific pilot are Heineken, DSM, FrieslandCampina, Unilever, Philips, and Shell.
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