Biofuels are under-utilized in maritime sector

According to the latest Sustainable Shipping Iniative’s (SSI) research, sustainable biofuels currently available are under-utilized but could potentially meet shipping’s energy needs of today.

In the short-term, biofuels could have a significant role to play to accelerate early decarbonization action across the maritime sector.

However, this supply may be limited in the medium- and longer-term – particularly given the ratcheting up of climate ambition and thus potential demand pressure across all sectors. 

Shipping cannot solve or manage these risks and uncertainties in isolation.

Be that as it may, the maritime industry has the opportunity to play a constructive role in establishing a sustainable bio-economy.

It can develop the market for sustainable biofuels and facilitate their role in the decarbonization of shipping – as well as that of other sectors, including aviation.

All have a role to play in providing clear market signals and in ensuring that sustainability is central to the production and sourcing of biomass feedstocks.

As the shipping industry explores how to radically decarbonise by mid-century – at a minimum reducing absolute GHG emissions by at least 50% by 2050 – zero-carbon fuels will need to be commercially available.

They can be produced from either renewable electricity, biomass or natural gas with carbon, capture and storage.

It is not yet clear which of the potential zero-carbon alternatives to fossil fuels has the winning combination of availability, sustainability and competitiveness. 

Biofuels derived from biomass may be an attractive option for the shipping sector and can be used as a feedstock to produce alcohol fuels such as ethanol and methanol, liquified bio-gas (LBG) or bio-diesel. 

As a decarbonisation pathway for shipping, biofuels come with considerable risks.

The risks are related to the supply-demand constraints – and as a consequence also pose risks related to price – as well as carry the additional risk of good intentions resulting in perverse outcomes, for example, increasing carbon emissions. 

Full report can be found here.

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