Wednesday, December 11, 2019

As COP25 Proceeds Sustainable Shipping Initiative Report Released with an Eye on Zero Carbon by 2050

Biofuels Considered as an Alternative but Risky Source of Power for Vessels of the Future
Shipping News Feature

WORLDWIDE – The Sustainable Shipping Initiative (SSI) has released its report, 'The Role of Sustainable Biofuels in the Decarbonisation of Shipping' at the UN Climate Change Conference (COP25) currently underway in Madrid. Outlining the findings of an inquiry commissioned by the SSI in January 2019, the report reflects a broad stakeholder consultation process to explore the potential role of biofuels in the decarbonisation of shipping.

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 and produced from either renewable electricity, biomass or natural gas with carbon, capture and storage. The SSI says that 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.

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

SSI’s research indicates that in the short-term, biofuels could have a significant role to play to accelerate early decarbonisation action across the maritime sector. The data suggest that the sustainable biofuels currently available are under-utilised and could potentially meet shipping’s energy needs of today. 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. The maritime industry has the opportunity to play a constructive role in establishing a sustainable bio-economy, developing the market for sustainable biofuels and facilitate their role in the decarbonisation 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. Andrew Stephens, Executive Director at SSI, commented:

“In 2018, SSI commissioned research, which revealed that zero-emission vessels need to be entering the world’s fleet by 2030, citing advanced biofuels as one of the more economically feasible options, amongst a possible range of low/zero carbon fuels for the shipping industry.

“SSI supports a zero-emission shipping sector by 2050 whilst being both fuel and technology agnostic. We’re also about collaboration across the entire shipping value chain. Through this inquiry we have canvassed a diverse range of perspectives, from a wide range of stakeholders, surrounding the issues of sustainability and availability of biofuels for shipping. We’re very pleased to be sharing our findings with (and beyond) the maritime industry to contribute to its decarbonisation efforts.”