Science a step closer to biofuel for ships

March 9, 2010 09:11
Slowly but surely, science seems to be advancing toward a production of biofuel that does not take away agricultural land from the world's food supply. When this kind of fuel is ready, so is A.P. Moller - Maersk, reports with reference to Maersk.
Five Maersk business units are already carrying out tests on a large container vessel with the ultimate aim of cutting CO2 emissions and diversifying the fuel supply. It is currently being tested how the fuel tanks and engines of Maersk Kalmar react to biodiesel, and this puts the Group at the forefront of the industry. The test is made with biodiesel based on crops grown in temperate regions, or reused oils. In the first go, the scope is a fuel blend with 5-7 % biodiesel.
The partners in the Biodiesel Project are Maersk Line, Maersk Tankers, Maersk Supply Service, Maersk Drilling, Maersk Ship Management, Lloyd's Register - Strategic Research Group, and a consortium of Dutch subcontractors.
The project is supported by the Dutch government.
Action could be relevant sooner than expected. Recently, several biotech companies have reported positive leaps in the creation of enzymes, which act as catalysts when biomass, such as agricultural waste, is converted into fuel.
Jacob Sterling of the Maersk Line sustainability team considers the reports encouraging.
"It's good news. Maersk Line will probably never sail on bioethanol, but lignin is a residual from producing bioethanol, and this may be a real option for us. Lignin is essentially a precursor for oil and coal, so it is very similar to the fuel we are using today - just with far less sulphur and CO2 emissions," he says.
Taking the lead on biofuel could be a strategic investment, according to Lasse Kragh Andersen senior specialist at Maersk Maritime Technology.
"At Maersk Maritime Technology we see the development of the technology behind shipping and biofuel as a big and exciting business opportunity," Andersen says.
Biofuel is one way to diversify the fuel supply as fossil fuels are likely to become scarcer and more expensive in the decades to come.  
"To the best of our knowledge, we are the first to test biodiesel in a large container vessel. We want to be ready when sustainable biofuels become available in large volumes," says Sterling.
There are caveats, though.
"It is crucial that future biofuels for shipping are sustainable - their CO2 emissions must be far less than conventional fuels, and the production should be based on biomass that can be produced without negative impacts on food production and biodiversity," Sterling says.
Maersk Line used more than 9 mill. tonnes of bunker fuel in 2009. Maersk Line has set a voluntary target to reduce CO2 emissions from its container vessels by 20 % per container moved in the period 2007-2017. Biofuel is expected to be part of the solution.
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