Towards Sustainability: Biofuel applications in the marine industry

The shipping sector is currently responsible for about 3 per cent of global emissions, as the sector generates around 1 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide and greenhouse gases each year. Thus, both the Indian and the global shipping industries are seeking ways to reduce carbon emissions to tackle climate change goals. To this end, sustainable biofuels can be used as a marine drop-in fuel to help reduce the carbon emissions in shipping. Biofuels are carbon-neutral because carbon dioxide that is absorbed by the source of the biomass is equal to the carbon dioxide that is released when the fuel is burned. Over the past few yea­rs, regular sea trials have been conducted to understand the scope of biofuels in the ma­rine industry. Greenhouse gas emissions are expec­ted to be reduced by about 9 per cent when biofuels are used, as compared to traditional bunkers. Additionally, the Indian government has taken a firm stan­ce on reducing the country’s carbon footprint through the implementation of the National Policy on Biofuels.

Amendments to the National Policy on Biofuels

In order to promote biofuels in the country, the National Policy on Biofuels was notified by the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas in 2018. The Union Cabinet approved amendments to th­is policy in May 2022.

The key amendments to the policy app­ro­ved by the cabinet include allowing more feedstock for biofuel production, advancing the ethanol blending in petrol target of 20 per cent by 2025-26 from 2030, adding new members to the National Biofuel Coordination Commit­tee, and granting permission for the export of biofuels in specific cases. The am­end­ments will also promote production of biofuels in the co­untry, under the Make in India programme, by production units located in special economic zones and export-oriented units. Further, the­se amendments will attract and foster development of indigenous technologies and generate more employment.

As per industry experts, these steps will he­lp India cut its reliance on overseas shipmen­ts. At present, the country depends on imports to meet 85 per cent of its oil needs.

Recent trials conducted successfully

Sea trials are being regularly conducted in a bid to understand biofuel behaviour, ass­ess the vessel performance during the trial, as well as explo­re the technical and commercial merits and challenges of using biofuels as a marine fuel.

The Indian Register of Shipping (IRClass) has undertaken successful sea trials for two vessels towards using biofuels, in concurrence with the Indian flag administration. These two ve­ssels are Ambuja Mukund and Ambuja Vai­bhav. In a bid to move towards reducing greenhouse gases, trials were carried out and emission levels of carbon dioxide and nitrogen oxi­de at both ballast and loaded voyages were monitored during the trial period. The biodiesel ble­nd (B20) was in compliance with Marpol Annex­ure VI (Regulation 14) sulphur content re­quire­ments and met the flashpoint requirements of the International Conven­tion for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) (Chapter II-2/Regulation 4.2.1). Regulation 14 of Marpol Annexure VI sets a 0.5 per cent maximum limit on the sulphur content in fuel oils used by any type of com­bustion machinery outside emission control areas, while SOLAS is an international maritime treaty that sets minimum safety standards for the construction, eq­uipment and ope­ra­tion of merchant ships. Af­ter trials were concluded, it was observed that there was no inc­rease of nitrogen oxide with biodiesel blends as compared to low sulphur heavy stock; ra­th­er, they had a low emission levels. Despite the fact that the decrease in carbon dioxide was only found to be around 7 per cent, the total life cycle reduction of carbon dioxide by life cycle analysis was only about 21 per cent, since bio­diesel from soya extract showed a 70 per cent reduction in life cycle greenhouse gas emi­s­sion. Overall, the results of the trials were fou­nd to be satisfactory.

Thereafter, the Directorate General of Ship­ping gave app­roval for biofuel trials for the re­maining fleet of Ambuja Cements, which is mainly deployed on the Indian coastal route. This initiative on the use of biofuels on ships is part of an exercise to propagate the use of al­ter­native fuels in Indian coastal shipping. Fur­ther, IRClass is working closely with the industry on decarbonisation projects.

In its journey towards decarbonisation, the Great Eastern Shipping Company Limited has successfully completed India’s first trial on a medium range tanker in international waters us­ing a biofuel blend. Biofuel grade B20M, a ble­nd of International Sustainability and Car­bon Certification certified 20 per cent fatty acid methyl esters biofuel and 80 per cent very low sulphur fuel oil, was bunkered at the Dubai anchorage from Uniper Energy and trials were conducted in international waters. These trials were supported by the Directorate General of Shipping and IRClass.

Marine biofuels have an important role to play in achieving Tata NYK’s sustainability go­als. To this end, Tata NYK has partnered with ExxonMobil for the supply of bio-based marine fuel oil from the latter, at Singapore port. Tata NYK Shipping deployed MV Sagar Moti, carrying a cargo of salt in bulk from India’s Mundra port to Vietnam, and received ExxonMobil’s marine biofuel via ship-to-ship transfer in Singapore waters in September 2022 before heading to the discharge port. The fuel oil is a combination of a conventional 0.5 per cent sulphur fuel with up to 25 per cent waste-based fatty acid methyl esters. The bio-component has been ac­c­redited by the International Sustainability and Carbon Certification organisation.

In line with its sustainability objectives and initiatives for the reduction of scope 3 standard greenhouse gas emission in ocean trade, Tata Steel has also deployed a ship powered by biofuel. The scope 3 standard encompasses emissio­ns that are not produced by the company itself and are not the result of activities from ass­ets owned or controlled by them, but by those that it is indirectly responsible for, up and down its value chain. The bulk carrier Frontier Sky, owned by NYK and operated by Tata NYK Ship­ping, has successfully completed trial use of biofuel to transport cargo provided by Tata Steel. The voyage involved a cargo of ab­out 0.16 million ton­nes of coal transported fr­om Gladstone, Aus­tralia, to Dhamra, India. Tata Steel’s objective is to reduce scope 3 standard emissions in marine transportation. NYK provided technical support including biofuel refuelling arrangeme­nts and engine operation planning. Tata NYK pro­vided operational know-how and extensive support during the entire voyage.

Other developments

Private oil refineries in India are actively moving forward with biodiesel and biofuel purchases because of limited domestic bio­diesel production capacity to meet the goals of the India National Biofuels Policy. In August 2022, Ae­m­etis announced that its universal biofuels subsidiary in India has been selected to supply app­roximately 8 million gallons of biodiesel. The combined revenues from these shipments are expected to be about $41 million.

In another notable development, a Syner­gy-managed chemical tanker recently became the first vessel to call at an Indian port while being powered by biofuel. This is one of a number of Synergy-managed vessels that are pioneering biofuel usage, as shipping moves to­war­ds the wide-scale use of more sustainable fuels. This particular fuel was branded VLSFO B-30 and compared to typical marine fuels, it offers a well-to-exhaust carbon dioxide reduction of 23-27 per cent, without requiring engine or fuel infrastructure modification.

Tata Steel has signed an MoU with Mitsui OSK Lines, a global marine transport group, to develop and deploy environment-friendly shipping solutions. The company has become the first steel producer in the world to join the sea cargo charter to reduce scope 3 standard greenhouse gas emissions in ocean trade.

The way forward

When properly tested, sustainable biofuels have the potential to significantly cut pollution levels, paving the way for a cleaner future for shipping in India. Going forward, ports need to plan and implement adaptation measures to increase the resilience of operations and to re­duce their vulnerability to the effects of climate change and greenhouse gas emissions.

Sidra Siddiquie