Big-name shipping companies, such as A.P. Moller – Maersk, are taking action to reduce emissions and transition to more sustainable fuels. But guidelines on what makes a marine fuel sustainable have yet to be established.
The Sustainable Shipping Initiative (SSI) recently released a report on how to define sustainable marine fuel criteria, in partnership with Copenhagen Business School (CBS) Maritime.
Marine fuels are currently considered based on availability, cost and technological feasibility, the report said. It said sustainability, including environmental, social and economic impacts, should be added to that list of considerations.
The report stressed the importance of using a well-to-wake analysis of fuels to determine the emissions of each fuel throughout its life cycle. That includes emissions from cultivation and harvest or primary energy production, production, byproducts from production, conversion, transportation and distribution, storage, bunkering, and propulsion.
The International Maritime Organization has not reported whether it will analyze emissions from fuels based on a well-to-wake or tank-to-wake basis yet. The organization’s decarbonization strategy, set to be revised in 2023, is to reduce emissions in the sector by 50% by 2050, with a 70% reduction in emissions intensity in the same period, based on 2008 levels. The Paris Agreement and climate scientists agree that global emissions need to reach net zero by or before 2050 to prevent the worst impacts of climate change.
“As the shipping industry transitions to zero-carbon shipping, we do not want to shift the problem upstream, so it’s fundamental that the life cycle sustainability impacts of potential zero-carbon fuels are considered equally in conjunction with their safety, technical feasibility and commercial viability. This means looking beyond greenhouse gases and including all environmental and social impacts,” Katharine Palmer, global sustainability manager at Lloyd’s Register, said in a release.
In addition to greenhouse gas emissions, ecological, social and socio-economic impacts should be considered in defining the sustainability of a fuel from well to wake, according to the SSI. During an SSI webinar reviewing the report, Palmer said the industry should strive to avoid unintended consequences of shifting fuels by evaluating all aspects of sustainability.
“Many fuel certification schemes measure the life cycle analysis of total emissions from production to end-use. They are established on the premise of lowering the overall carbon footprint. SSI takes it a step further in this report by proposing a methodology to evaluate sustainable marine fuels with an additional focus on other dimensions of sustainability, namely social and economic. Including these other criteria is essential to ensuring that all the needs of current generations do not compromise those of future generations,” said Tyler Cole, director of carbon intelligence at FreightWaves.
The 15 criteria SSI said should define sustainable marine fuels include:
- Life cycle greenhouse gas emissions.
- Life cycle short-lived climate forcers emissions.
- Air quality.
- Carbon source.
- Electricity and energy source.
- Sustainable resource use.
- Land use.
- Ecological impacts.
- Economic well-being.
- Social equity.
- Social, labor and human rights.
- Food security.
- Health, safety and security.
- Continuous improvement.
Palmer said this report comes at a good time, when establishing a standard for defining sustainable marine fuels could impact the direction of the industry’s pathway to net-zero emissions. She said customers want to know that their products are being shipped sustainably because they have their own sustainability goals to reach. And having an international standard or certification process for sustainable fuels would provide value for stakeholders throughout the supply chain, according to Palmer.
Several panelists during the webinar agreed that the shipping industry should follow aviation’s lead for sustainable fuels certifications and not waste time reinventing the wheel. They said that sustainability certifications and standards should be put in place now, as these fuel supply chains are being built, and not layered on top of existing systems later.
Panelists also stressed that unless fuels are evaluated from well to wake, emissions will just move upstream in the supply chain, and overall emissions from shipping fuels will not decrease as needed.
“Shipping is not going to have its own fuel,” Palmer said. It’s important that suppliers be able to produce a sustainable fuel and have it meet standards across multiple markets, she said.