Trans-oceanic cargo ships generate enormous amounts of carbon dioxide emissions. Many of the world’s leading shipping companies want to reduce the amount of CO2 their vessels pump into the atmosphere, but it’s hard to do, thanks to the immutable laws of economics. Most ships operate on bunker oil, the dregs left over after the refining process is over. It’s a gooey mess so thick it needs to be heated to get it to flow to the engines. Because it has few other buyers, it tends to be cheap to buy.
Marine engines are different than normal internal combustion engines. They have no sump or oiling system. Instead, they rely on the lubricity of the fuel they burn to keep their internal parts from seizing up during operation. Replacing those engines with modern equivalents capable of burning more conventional fuels can cost millions of dollars per ship. The marine shipping business is highly competitive. Replacing engines and buying more expensive fuel are simply not options for small time operators, which makes it hard for industry leaders like Hapag-Lloyd and Maersk to lower their carbon footprint and still remain competitive.
Hapag-Lloyd is experimenting with a new fuel called B20 that combines 80% low sulphur bunker oil with 20% biodiesel made from grease and fats sourced from restaurants and caterers. When burned, the biodiesel creates 90% fewer emissions than conventional fuels, according to a report by Renewable Energy magazine. The experimental fuel will be used to power the Montreal Express, a cargo ship that plies the waters between Canada and Europe.
“We are checking to see whether the share of biodiesel has any adverse effects on the equipment and the fuel processing on board the vessel. If the test is successful, more ships from Hapag-Lloyd’s fleet could operate using the ‘B20’ fuel in future,” explains Jan Christensen, senior director of purchasing and supply for Hapag-Lloyd.
Jörg Erdmann, senior director of sustainability management for the company, adds “By the end of this year, we want to have reduced our specific CO2 emissions by 50 percent compared to the reference year 2008. Biofuels like ‘B20’ can help us reach this target. This is because, in addition to having a low sulphur content, the fuel also emits less climate-damaging CO2 during combustion.”
It’s a small but significant step toward lowering the carbon emissions from the world’s extensive fleet of oceangoing cargo vessels.