Around the world on used cooking oil: biofuel test for cleaner shipping

Shipping is responsible for more than 2% of global CO₂ emissions. The use of biofuels can help reduce the burden on the environment and climate. The container ship Mette Maersk tried this on the route from Rotterdam to Shanghai – by cruising on used cooking oil.

"It's indeed a gigantic ship." "The only way to experience the size is to see the size with your own eyes."
In the so called Europa-haven in the Rotterdam harbor container ship Mette Maersk is impressing with its format: 400 meters long, 18,000 containers on board. Representatives of the Danish container shipping company Maersk, Shell, the Port of Rotterdam Authority and several Dutch multinational companies from the Dutch sustainable Growth Coalition came this spring together to wave the blue container ship goodbye for a special trip. The Mette Maersk sails to Shanghai, partly on a biofuel of used cooking oil.

The impressed guests in the Europa-haven know each other from the conference table. They have negotiated the scope and conditions of the biofuel test for months. And in laboratories, the composition of the fuel and the effects on the marine engine have been extensively tested. Now they see it happening in reality. Next to the Mette Maersk is a bunker ship that supplies the container giant with the mixture of biofuel and regular fuel. For this occasion there are two proud flags on the cabin of the bunker boat; of Shell and Maersk.

For the stage with the cleaner fuel, the following was conceived: the first part of the route the Mette Maersk would sail on a mixture of 7% biofuel. If successful, the mighty ship will switch to a higher percentage: 20%.

On June, 21th DSGC will present the results and next steps of the clean shipping project during Sail in The Hague. Please click here for more information and registration.

If the pilot is successful with the biofuel, converted, 2,000 containers are shipped sustainably to the other side of the world. Maersk Project leader David Samad proudly makes a photograph of the ship of his Danish company. The big Mette Maersk only just fits in his small photo frame. According to Samad, this test is an important step in the sustainable shipping industry, especially considering its scale. "If we can do it here, we can also do it on other ships, and hopefully also with other shipping companies."

The involvement of different companies is necessary for the success of such an initiative. Firstly, and perhaps most importantly, there must be companies that ship a lot of cargo around the world. The Netherlands has those companies. They are represented for this trial by the Dutch Sustainable Growth Coalition Association. This Coalition of Dutch multinationals strives for sustainable growth and took the initiative for this trial. DSM, FrieslandCampina, Heineken, Philips and Unilever decided to participate.
Kim van Neer is responsible for the distribution of products around the world at the chemical company DSM. She wants to do that as sustainably as possible. "Our customers are increasingly demanding sustainability", Van Neer says. This same reaction gives her colleague at FrieslandCampina, Walter Vermeer. The reason for participating lies in the origins of his company, he says. "FrieslandCampina is a cooperative of dairy farmers. Then of course it is appropriate to deal with natural resources sparingly. "
Van Neer and Vermeer emphasize that it is necessary to cooperate as a business community. "DSM is a big company, but not a big shipper worldwide," says Van Neer. "With only a few containers on a ship, you cannot make shipping sustainable. We will have to make a fist together."

This could be achieved in the Dutch Sustainable Growth Coalition. Vermeer also mentions the BICEPS Network, of which FrieslandCampina is one of the promoters. "The aim of BICEPS is to ensure that several multinational corporations can jointly assess shipping companies in an online system on sustainability. For example, it is possible for these companies to allocate - in their procurement of ocean shipping in such a way that it is shipped more durable. It encourages shipping companies to go more sustainable."

This is immediately the second necessary party: a shipping company with green ambitions. The Danish Maersk, the largest container shipping company in the world, has the ambition to be CO₂ neutral at the latest in 2050. "This trial is a good example of the role we want to play in the sustainable development of global shipping", says David Samad of Maersk.

But a green ambition alone is not enough. Maersk also wants to make a profit and reduce its business risks as much as possible. With that dilemma the company is sitting around the table with the companies that want to send containers to the other side of the world. Finally, Maersk decided to start this test with a mixture with 'only' 7% biofuel. "This is the first time we are testing this type of biofuel on a commercial trip", says David Samad of Maersk. "But we also know that a higher percentage is more interesting for the shipping industry and has a greater effect on CO₂ reduction. That's why we later switch to a higher percentage." So there are technicians involved and spare parts for precaution. "With this test, we get a better understanding of the technical, operational and commercial possibilities of biofuel in shipping", he says.

Then there is another third party needed, a supplier of fuel, in this case Shell. Pepijn van den Heuvel is involved in the trial on behalf of the energy company. Shell manufactures biofuel for road transport for years. For shipping, experimenting with cleaner fuels is still relatively new. "Every year about 250 million tonnes of fuel oil is consumed by ships. In the maritime sector, emissions are considerable and container shipping is a big part of that. "To reduce greenhouse gas emissions”, says Van den Heuvel, “we are looking for cleaner fuels and sustainable alternatives."

This development is now under way, accelerated by more stringent legislation on sulphur emissions starting 2020. The world is invested in new refineries – including Shell Pernis – that can process petroleum high quality, leaving less low sulphur fuel oil. On this residual product traditional ships sail. In addition, new biofuels are being developed.

"At large seagoing ships there are no easy solutions", knows Van den Heuvel. "It's complicated". He is referring to the specifications of the ship's engine, which are unique for each ship. One of these specifications is that there should be no biocomponents in the fuel. Van den Heuvel: "So, if we want to change, then we will have to test it extensively. Does the fuel stay well-mixed? Will the biofuel not be centrifuged out of the engine? Is the mixture stable at high temperatures? Are there no residues left in the pipes? Are there any filter problems?" The tests showed that the fuel mixture works well in the engine of the Mette Maersk, with some minor modifications to the engine settings.

In the energy transition of shipping, the port authorities also use their influence: the fourth necessary driver for greener shipping. The Port of Rotterdam Authority supports the business community in order to facilitate tests such as the one with the Mette Maersk. For example, by issuing ground positions to companies that produce cleaner fuels, by providing incentive funds – which have not been used for this test – and by making agreements worldwide with other Port Authorities. Last September, for example, a number of major world ports presented the World Ports Climate Action Program, which aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the shipping industry.

Nico van Dooren leads the Port of Rotterdam Authority energy transition team. The Port Authority follows the various solutions to make shipping more sustainable. For example, electric transmission, liquefied natural gas (LNG) and synthetic fuels, made by solar or wind energy. The use of biofuels is an intermediate step: "But during a transition it is worth investing."

"There is no other option", says Van Dooren. "Due to growing worldwide logistics, CO₂ emissions are still rising in absolute terms. So we have to act. With the use of biofuel you buy time for the development of techniques that are completely CO₂ neutral."

After leaving Rotterdam, the Mette Maersk crossed the Suez Canal and crossed the Indian Ocean via the Somali coast. David Samad of Maersk regularly contacted the crew from his office in Denmark: "We have tested both 7 percent and 20 percent biofuel and everything goes as we predicted at the start. The results are encouraging. " Shell is also satisfied with the results of the test. Van den Heuvel: "It offers perspectives to go for a follow up. Hopefully in several ships and with higher percentages of biofuel."

Shipping not in climate agreement
Shipping is responsible for more than 2 percent of global CO₂ emissions. To make shipping more sustainable, some pressure is essential: legislation for cleaner sailing. In shipping, an international sector that is not tied to national legislation, that is not easy. Like flying, shipping is not included in the Paris climate agreement. This means that until recently there were no firm commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in shipping. That changed last year, when the International Maritime Organization (IMO) expressed its ambition to reduce CO₂ emissions from shipping in 2050 by at least 50 percent compared to 2008. The intention is seen as a major first step towards greener sailing.

Lower Sulphur Emissions
To become more sustainable te shipping sector have to curb sulphur emissions. It is now still maximized to 3.5 percent on open seas. From 1 January 2020, this may only be 0.5 percent. The demand for this low sulphur fuel oil is expected to rise considerably, as is the price. The Shell refinery in Pernis says the is ready for the growing demand for cleaner fuels. Recently, the International Maritime Organisation IMO announced that it is temporarily allowed to bunker conventional fuel oil in places where the low sulphur fuel is not yet present.

Mette Maersk
Length: 400 meters long
Capacity: 18,000 containers
Fuel: A mixture with second generation biofuel of 7% and 20%
Biofuel: 540,000 litres (80 to 85% savings in CO₂ emissions compared to regular fuel)
Regular fuel: 1,460,000 liter
Total CO₂ reduction: 1.5 tonnes of CO₂
Sustainable profit: 2,000 containers shipped durable

Facts & Figures
CO2 emissions from shipping: over 2% of total global emissions
Fuel oil per year: 250 million tonnes
Total number of seagoing vessels: circa 20,000  
Number of container ships: 5,000
Number of very large container ships: 120

Necessary parties for sustainable shipping
Companies that want to ship cargo sustainably: DSGC
A shipping company with green ambitions: Maersk
A biofuel supplier: Shell
A port that encourages companies to innovate:  Port of Rotterdam Authority