What are biofuels?
Biofuels are sustainable fuels made from a variety of organic materials (e.g. wood, crops, oil, algae, organic residues, etc.) called biomass.
The main biofuels relevant to maritime shipping can be classified into four types:
- Biodiesels and bio-alcohols, replacing conventional distillate fuels
- Biocrudes, replacing conventional fuel oils
- Gaseous biofuels, replacing fossil LNG
How are biofuels produced?
Biofuels are generally divided into three categories – or generations – according to feedstock – or the type of biomass – used. First generation biofuels, known as conventional biofuels, are produced from agricultural food crops, vegetable oil, and food waste. Second generation biofuels, called advanced biofuels, are made from energy crops, agricultural or forest residue, known as lignocellulosic biomass. Third generation biofuels are made from the byproducts of microorganisms, such as algae.
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Biofuels can be produced from several methods or production pathways, including transesterification, hydrotreating, gasification, Fischer-Tropsch synthesis, fermentation and pyrolysis. Yet more are in development. These technologies associated with these production pathways are at various levels of readiness.
When used onboard ships, biofuels have the potential to reduce the lifecycle GHG footprint of the marine sector.
What are the advantage of biofuels?
Biofuels provide many advantages to ship owners and managers looking to lower their vessels’ emissions:
- Biofuel versatility Biofuels can be used onboard ships of all types and sizes without requiring significant technical, safety, or design modifications. They can be mixed with fossil fuels, helping owners reduce emissions quickly without becoming dependent on biofuels.
- Biofuel availability Biofuels can be produced in multiple locations and from diverse sources, making global production and distribution realistic.
Director of Development Department
Bureau Veritas M&O
Biofuels have earned their place at the vanguard of sustainable shipping fuels, given their ease of use and green credentials. That said, operators must regularly assess the impact of biofuel consumption on ship engines and equipment. This is where Bureau Veritas’ VeriFuel services and BIOFUEL READY notation can help, promoting ongoing safety and onboard compliance.
What are the challenges of biofuels?
Challenges remain for the scaling up and use of biofuels for shipping:
- Biofuel sustainability End-to-end sustainability is a key question, as biofuels must come from a green supply chain, starting with sustainable biomass production. Land used for biofuels production needs to be closely monitored, ensuring sustainable management practices and avoiding crop displacement.
- Biofuel supply Shipping may also likely face competition from other industries, such as aviation or road transportation, and higher prices due to biofuels’ limited availability.
- Use onboard: Challenges associated with onboard storage include: ageing, microbial growth, corrosion, cold flow properties and compatibility with lubricating oil
- Emissions: Engine recalibration may be needed to comply with NOx emissions requirements.
Bureau Veritas’ services for biofuels
Our biofuel Rules and notations
For ships looking to use biofuels onboard at a future date, Bureau Veritas provides a BIOFUEL READY notation. Our notation details requirements for biofuel use and management, accounting for the fuel’s technical specifications, and offers a comprehensive methodology for emissions testing. Both newbuilds and in-service vessels are eligible for our BIOFUEL READY notation.
Supporting biofuel pioneers
The primary challenge for ship managers and operators using biofuels onboard is ensuring the safe composition and quality of their fuel. Bureau Veritas helps owners meet regulatory requirements for biofuels through VeriFuel, our comprehensive Marine Fuel Services Program. We put our extensive network of global testing, inspection and certification (TIC) laboratories to work for clients, offering crucial marine fuel quality assessments. Our marine experts provide advisory reports and technical advice, enabling ship managers and operators to monitor biofuel use and quality at any time.
Which generation of biofuels are most sustainable?
Second and third generation biofuels are the most sustainable types of biofuels. Second generation biofuels are produced from non-food biomass, such as wood or crop residue, which supports green waste treatment. Third generation biofuels are made from microalgae, natural organisms that can be rapidly produced with little energy and without disrupting ecosystems. However, second and third generation biofuels are not yet widely available.
Can I use biofuels with other marine fuels?
Yes. Under certain conditions, biofuels can be mixed with most fossil fuels, including Heavy Fuel Oil (HFO), Very Low Sulphur Fuel Oil (VLSFO) and MGO. Biofuels are compatible with most ship engines – providing compliance with the manufacturer’s recommendations. This means they can be burned alongside other marine fuels without vessels undergoing major technical, safety or design adjustments.
What are the options for marine biofuel bunkering?
Because biofuel consumption onboard vessels remains niche, global supply and dedicated bunkering facilities are currently limited. However, rising demand should spur the creation of bunkering areas. For biofuels – a drop-in fuel that can be mixed with other fuels – this will likely mean taking over existing bunkering infrastructure for fossil fuels.
What regulations are in place for biofuels?
Emissions from engines using biofuels are subject to regulatory requirements laid out in MARPOL Annex VI, Regulation 18, including limitations for nitrous oxide (NOx) and sulfur oxide (SOx) emissions. Biofuels must also respect the Global Sulphur Cap, which limits the sulfur content of onboard fuel to 0.50% m/m.
How are biofuels stored?
Storage conditions and holding periods for biofuels vary based on the type of biofuel. For example, Hydrotreated Vegetable Oil (HVO) can be stored for long periods of time, while Fatty Acid Methyl Esters (FAME) have a storage life of six months. Storage tanks may require the addition of protective coatings, linings, or antioxidant additives to avoid oxidation or microbiological growths.
Are biofuels expensive?
Predicting long-term costs of any fuel is difficult as the energy market is subject to fluctuations from many different factors. However, it is highly likely that biofuel costs will be driven up due to competition from other transportation sectors – and particularly aviation.