Op-Ed: Exploring the potential of biofuels in the energy transitionWritten by Heather Ervin
By Daniel Holmes, Business Development Manager for North America, at Bureau Veritas
The shipping industry is making progress in its transition from traditional fuels to alternative fuels. With a range of alternatives under consideration, a key challenge is to consider how the production of low- and zero-carbon fuels can be scaled up for widespread use, particularly if carbon impact is to be assessed on a well-to-wake basis.
The U.S. took a strong lead at COP27, announcing further support for green shipping corridors, together with a number of other nations, which should help to fast-track the early adoption of zero-emission fuels. Because investment in new supporting infrastructure will need to be ramped up over time, interim goals are being set to reduce GHG emissions from ships operating in these corridors from 2025.
Bunkering biofuels could help meet these interim goals. The ongoing production of biofuels could also support the subsequent adoption of green fuels such as e-methanol and e-LNG. These e-fuels need to be produced from a sustainable source of carbon if they are to be considered renewable fuels on a well-to-wake (WtW) basis and this carbon could come from biogas made from organic waste using anaerobic digestion technology. The output of this process is approximately 45-75% methane, and the remainder is CO2 that could be used to produce e-methanol and e-LNG. Another sustainable source identified for carbon is the CO2 emitted from combustion of forest residues to generate heat (bioenergy use).
The use of bio-waste also has the potential to reduce WtW emissions for these fuels, as it is a resource that is likely to be locally available in many regions, reducing feedstock transport costs and the associated emissions that need to be considered for WtW sustainability. A fuel produced with renewable energy but transported over long distances to its final use point may have higher WtW emissions than a fuel produced and used locally. For example, e-methane produced from solar panels and transported over long distances in a cryogenic state may have greater WtW emissions than locally consumed e-methanol produced from a wind farm.
BV’s recent whitepaper, Alternative Fuels Outlook for Shipping: An overview of alternative fuels from a well-to-wake perspective, highlights the potentially mutually-reinforcing relationship between the use of biofuels and e-fuels. It concludes that, produced from renewable energy, e-fuels are one of the most promising options to achieve true decarbonization, alongside second-generation biofuels that are produced sustainably from renewable feedstocks.
The sustainability of biofuels depends on the nature of feedstocks used. Monitoring land use patterns is essential to ensure biofuel production does not lead to indirect detrimental effects on the environment. Nevertheless, developing the required infrastructure to produce advanced biofuels using mostly waste materials from forestry activity and agricultural residues could be seen as an opportunity to create jobs locally and build a sustainable bioeconomy.
When considering the viability of alternative fuel options for shipping, these multiple factors must be considered, and only through a complete life-cycle analysis can they be properly evaluated. Collaboration within and beyond shipping will be important to achieve this.
Bureau Veritas welcomes the COP27 announcement by the US and its partners in the Zero-Emission Shipping Mission of a Green Shipping Corridor Hub. The online platform will have tools that aim to streamline the formation and deployment of green shipping corridors including a green shipping corridor route tracker, a matchmaker tool to help stakeholders connect, and a library of relevant studies.
The concept of green corridors enables the challenges of decarbonization to be tackled at a scale that is achievable as a prelude to wider adoption, and the role that biofuels could play should not be overlooked.