The shipping industry is responsible for releasing around 1 billion metric tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere every year. The heavy marine diesel used by container and cruise ships is particularly polluting and shipping firms are coming under increasing pressure to clean up their act. But thanks to research undertaken by the Fraunhofer Institute for Environmental, Safety and Energy Technology (UMSICHT) in Oberhausen, an alternative biofuel could be market-ready soon.
The Biorefinery and Biofuels division at UMSICHT are producing diesel, gasoline and kerosene suitable for ships, cars and even aircraft, from renewable vegetal and waste sources which are synthesised into bioethanol. The climate-friendly biofuels have almost the same properties as fossil fuels but release 32 percent less CO2 than petroleum diesel in lab tests, but also less carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons and significantly less soot.
“Straw, leaves, sawdust, waste wood – we can use almost anything as the feedstock for bioethanol,” explains Dr Andreas Menne in a , who heads up the team. He emphasises that vehicles could be running on this biofuel now and time is not a luxury we have. “Electric, hybrid and fuel cell vehicles are not going to reduce greenhouse gas emissions as quickly as this has to happen. We need a diversity of solutions for tomorrow’s fuels,” he says.
The UMSICHT lab can only produce 20 litres of this biofuel a week, but the plant technology is not expensive to replicate, and the feedstock could come from a variety of stable sources. Shipping companies could even make it themselves in ports.
The biofuels have been tested across different classes of vehicles, under varying conditions, and compare favourably. In fact, the density of these biofuels is slightly higher than fossil fuels which means greater power per litre. While marine biodiesel is still more expensive right now, with new climate legislation coming in, it might work out cheaper for freight companies in the long run.