LNG and Methanol Could Lead the Way to Shift to Biofuels?

Image Courtesy: Joint Research Centre (Fotolia, Diego Cardini)

LNG and methanol have been singled out as top alternative fuels for maritime transport in the report released by the EU Joint Research Centre (JRC) especially due to their capability to serve as transition fuels before making a major shift to biofuels.

As indicated in the report, they can drive decarbonisation of the shipping sector and contribute to the fight against climate change, especially as the maritime industry strives to adopt alternative fuels amid introduction of strict regulation on emissions and reports on harmful effects related to the use of traditional marine fuels. Until now, the shipping industry has used fuels with high sulphur content.

From a long-term perspective, moving to LNG and methanol is strategically attractive as each of the two fuels has a biofuel counterpart, biomethane and biomethanol, as explained by JRC.

This means that ships and infrastructure built for LNG and methanol can be used to supply biomethane and biomethanol without a large overhaul of installations.

If LNG becomes a fully accepted fuel, ships could be built with dedicated gas engine in the future.

However, the potential use of transition fuels is to depend on factors including environmentally sustainable biomass feedstock for their production, cost-effective production technologies and on their market penetration.

The switch to alternative fuels is gaining on importance in particular because the EU aims to shift some of the road transport load to the more efficient marine and inland waterway systems by 2030, due to the fact that shipping requires 2-3 grams of fuel per ton per km, compared to road transport by truck which is about 15 grams of fuel per ton per km.

Additionally, the EU goal is to reduce the EU CO2 emissions from maritime transport by 40% by 2050 compared to 2005 levels.

Still, the introduction of alternative marine fuels is to be accompanied by additional complexity in the areas of fuel supply infrastructure, rules for safe use of fuels on board and operation of new systems, the report finds. Adoption of the new rules could be a challenge for shipowners as well.

Nevertheless, with the results from the COP21 (Conference of Parties) still fresh, this is the right time to invest in the decarbonization of the marine sector, JRC concludes in the report.

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