As one of the mayor fossil fuel consumers, the marine sector is looking into alternative shipping fuels that could help contributing to reach new climate targets and stricter emission requirements. Biofuels, as most people know, are made mostly from plants. They reduce CO2 emissions and their zero or very low sulfur content compared to fossil fuels also helps to reduce emissions such as oxides of sulfur (SOx).
Fatty Acid Methyl Ester, also known as FAME, is the generic chemical term for biodiesel derived from renewable sources. In Europe 7% and in the U.S. 5% of FAME is already blended with normal diesel for road transport to improve local air quality. For European Union member states and other European countries this is specified in the EN 590 standard, often reffered to as ultra-low sulfur diesel (ULSD).
Blended biofuel is not yet a requirement for shipping in most countries, however some governments in the EU are planning ambitious steps further to reduce sulfur and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from ships. The government of The Netherlands for example wants the share of renewable fuels to be at least 16.4% in 2022 and save of 400,000 tons of CO2 per year by blending bio-fuels to the diesel oil for inland shipping.
A great step towards contributing to climate change goals one would say. But not everyone is yet a 100% convinced. The two key concerns in the inland shipping segment seem to be:
- Higher Price
The blended biofuels come with a higher price tag. One could consider this a relative small impact for the occasional pleasure craft cruiser in exchange for clean air, but definitely more painful for the shipping sector where diesel forms a big part of its operating costs.
In case of the Netherlands, some predict that diesel consumption will actually increase as ships could be making detours to bunker cheaper diesel oil (without bio components) in Belgium or Germany.
- Higher Water Absorption
Water in fuel is public enemy number one of combustion engines. It can damage engine components like injectors and cylinders, create corrosion, and stimulate microbial growth. Biodiesel both attracts more water and has a bigger capacity to contain more water than petroleum diesel. In the best case, water in fuel can increase your maintenance costs, increase fuel consumption and reduce your engine power. Worse case, the engine could break down with all safety related consequences. As the plans from the Dutch government were announced, many articles referred to biofuel as “The Silent Killer Of Inland Shipping”.
I have no solution for the higher costs I’m afraid.
Good working water separators will be even more critical to effectively eliminate free or mixed water from fuel.
For the elimination of dissolved or soluble water one has to look beyond the traditional solutions. Fuel Enhancers from Black Eagle seem to be the only on-board solution that can eliminate dissolved water at molecular level through a chemical process. Added benefit of this device is that it also reduces sulfur and heavy hydrocarbon content, so besides protecting the engine, it also protects our environment from harmful emissions.