COP25: Biofuels Offer Short-Term Benefits

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Published Dec 11, 2019 4:50 PM by The Maritime Executive

The Sustainable Shipping Initiative (SSI) has launched the report The Role of Sustainable Biofuels in the Decarbonisation of Shipping at the UN Climate Change Conference (COP25) currently underway in Madrid. The report indicates that 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, biofuels have also proven to be highly controversial, with questions raised not only about adverse sustainability impacts arising from their use, but also whether they will be available in sufficient quantities. So, as a decarbonisation pathway for shipping, biofuels come with considerable risks related to supply-demand constraints that could increase prices. 

SSI’s research indicates that in the short-term, biofuels could have a significant role to play to accelerate early decarbonization action across the maritime sector. The data suggest that the sustainable biofuels currently available are under-utilized 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.

Simon Bennett, General Manager – Sustainable Development at The China Navigation Company, said: “The shipping sector must act now, without waiting to be bound by legislation as by then it will be too late to meet necessary targets, but we cannot act alone. We need to coalesce and align on sustainable solutions for radical decarbonisation, taking action to mitigate the climate crisis we find ourselves in, in the short-, medium- and longer-term – and the energy transition in between.

“Finding solutions needs businesses both within and upstream of the sector, together with policy makers to work together in transition planning, recognizing the potential opportunities as well as the risks posed by the various potential substitute fuels and technologies. While biofuels represents one of the solutions today, we need to continue innovating, investing in and scaling up other potential options to carry us through and beyond 2050.”

Shipping company MSC is already implementing the use of a drop-in biofuel after successful sea trials.

The SSI report is available here.