Editorial / 24 Dec 2023

Future fuels

Joining the dots to complete the alternative fuels picture

The past year has seen several major developments in alternative fuel options for the maritime industry, all of which look to make their use in commercial shipping much more viable. With the shipping sector making bold steps to reach net zero by 2050, these greener fuel options will be vital if the industry is to make that goal a reality.

The current shipping order book is full of new vessels that run on LNG, hydrogen, methanol, ammonia and biofuels, with many due to come online in the next two years. New technology also looks to be hitting the market soon, with new engine types from Wärtsilä and MAN Energy Solutions that run on greener energy sources becoming commercially available, enabling ship owners to build or retrofit their vessels to reduce their carbon footprint.

This development is a net positive, not only for the environment but for the maritime industry and its role in reducing global carbon emissions.

However, while demand for alternative fuels continues to rise and more vessels that run on cleaner energy come online, the need for onshore infrastructure and logistics to support this growth will be vital. Such developments don’t make the maritime front pages as much as the delivery of a modern eco-vessel, and yet the lack of investment in onshore infrastructure could prove to be a stumbling block for the development of alternative fuels as a viable option for merchant vessels.


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The existence of sophisticated port infrastructure to support all aspects of a port call is crucial, not only for docked vessels but also for the local economy that relies on trade via sea. All major ports are sufficiently kitted out to provide the traditional, carbon-emitting bunker fuels that have long been the cornerstone of the maritime sector. However, few have what it takes to supply greener fuel options as effectively.

Ports around the world – including countries like China, Netherlands, India, Singapore and the United Kingdom – have started taking steps and making investments to ensure they can supply a range of alternative fuels to maintain their position as major bunkering hubs into the future.

For biofuels, Rotterdam is one of the leaders with Shell building a 820,000 tonnes-a-year biofuel facility there, as the port aims for 55% carbon reduction by 2030 and achieving carbon neutrality by 2050.

Some European ports are preparing to facilitate methanol ship-to-ship bunkering, the first barge-to-ship methanol bunkering operations was conducted on the US Gulf Coast earlier this year, and Trinidad and Tobago is looking to develop a methanol bunkering facility.

In one of the world’s leading bunkering hubs, the Singapore-based Global Centre for Maritime Decarbonisation completed two bunkering trials with different supply chains of biofuels in February using cooking oil methyl ester (Ucome) blended with very-low sulphur fuel oil and Ucome blended with high-sulphur fuel oil. This came after the development by the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore of a provisional national quality standard for marine biofuels and a framework outlining conditions for supplies.

While total volumes of bunker sales in Singapore fell by 4.3% from 2021 to 2022, it included about 140,000t of biofuel blends over more than 90 biofuel bunkering operations, surpassing 16,000t in LNG bunker sales.

In Norway, business clusters are taking matters into their own hands to create the infrastructure and value chains for new green marine fuels. Ocean Hyway Cluster, a cluster focusing strongly on maritime hydrogen, and its project partners have mapped ferry and high-speed boat routes, shipping routes and offshore traffic along the country’s coastline that cannot be covered by battery-powered ferries – but can by hydrogen vessels.

Not enough yet
And yet, while infrastructure is being upgraded at ports to support hydrogen and ammonia bunkering and biofuels are available at more than 80 ports worldwide, it is not yet enough.

Many projects are in their infancy so the likelihood of wide-scale adoption in the near term is small.

For now, the focus is on ensuring that all major stakeholders involved in the supply chain are lined up in a bid to build momentum towards full-scale adoption.

“We must join the dots and bridge any gaps between stakeholders involved in the production, delivery and bunkering of alternative fuels for the maritime industry,” says Martyn McMahon, Global Director of GAC Bunker Fuels. “Vessels that run on alternative fuels like ammonia or hydrogen are coming and we must be ready to support them. This means ensuring that fuel producers and distributors, ship owners and builders, port authorities, classification societies and relevant regulatory bodies are all in alignment.

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“GAC Bunker Fuels has long advocated for the use of alternative fuels as a way of accelerating decarbonisation of the shipping industry, by building and maintaining key relationships with all involved in the supply chain. By being part of this important global conversation, we can use our position as a leading provider of alternative fuels to advocate for the infrastructure needed to ensure their safe and smooth supply.”

Strategic partnerships will be a crucial next step to ensure that the logistics surrounding alternative marine fuels run effectively.

“We must adapt to the ever-changing alternative marine fuels landscape,” says Martyn.

“GAC Bunker Fuels is a proven partner in this domain, with the expertise, flexibility and global footprint to support all types of infrastructure projects at ports and terminals around the world.”

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