Study claims biofuels are the most economically feasible zero-emission alternative for shipping

A report authored for the charity Sustainable Shipping Initiative (SSI) has stated that advanced biofuels may represent the most economically feasible zero-emission alternative for the shipping industry.

Penned by Lloyd’s Register (LR) and University Maritime Advisory Services (UMAS), the study, published this week, states: “The fact that biofuels can be used in a way that very closely mirrors current technology, i.e. through internal combustion, means that associated additional costs are kept to a minimum of the fuel price itself.”

Under the scenarios projected in the study, the costs involved with switching to biofuels were deemed to be “within the realm of acceptability for many in the industry”.

Stephanie Draper, co-chair of the SSI, commented: “The report makes clear that the technology is with us today, but investment is needed both to bring the technology to scale and to encourage a wider take-up. The shipping industry will need multiple solutions, and investment for different technologies – not just biofuels – to reach beyond fuel efficiency to decarbonisation.”

The report also examines electric power and hydrogen fuel cells, and takes note of the upstream CO2 emissions which need to be resolved as these fuels will have to be judged on an environmental performance from ‘well to wake’, and not just on emissions from ships.

Looking at hydrogen fuel cells the study raises the question of whether companies or consumers would pay more for goods with a zero emission transport sticker on them.

“With the ability to pass on voyage cost excess to the supply chain, effectively providing a premium on a zero emission service, the magnitude of the competitiveness gap decreases hugely, and may indeed already render hydrogen fuel cells economically feasible for certain operators and routes,” the report noted.

The full report can be accessed by clicking here.


Sam Chambers

Starting out with the Informa Group in 2000 in Hong Kong, Sam Chambers became editor of Maritime Asia magazine as well as East Asia Editor for the world’s oldest newspaper, Lloyd’s List. In 2005 he pursued a freelance career and wrote for a variety of titles including taking on the role of Asia Editor at Seatrade magazine and China correspondent for Supply Chain Asia. His work has also appeared in The Economist, The New York Times, The Sunday Times and The International Herald Tribune.


  1. This is an interesting report and some biofuels (but not all of them) are a good way of reducing shipping’s carbon footprint. But biofuel – particularly vegetable based products – should not be viewed as a panacea to solving the global carbon emissions crisis.
    One has to remember that not so long ago, in 2007/2008, many were throwing good money at processing the Jatropha plant, which was then considered the ultimate green fuel. However, while the end product does the job, producing the stuff was found to do considerably more harm than good.
    Not only is the plant highly toxic, but lush fertile ground was razed to make way for planting. The process of getting it ready for refining, along with the refining process itself, was found to be environmentally impacting.
    The same can be said of palm and corn-based biofuels, which have proven controversial since increased demand has driven an increase in deforestation, drainage of peatlands, loss of biodiversity, and reduced the availability of freshwater while increasing the use of chemical-laced fertilizers and pesticides.
    The Royal Academy of Engineering published a report last year emphasising that burning some vegetable-based biofuels have led to more emissions than the fossil fuels for which they have been developed to replace.
    The report, Sustainability of Liquid Biofuels, commissioned by the UK’s Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, and published in July 2017, advocated greater use of waste products, such as used cooking oil, “fatbergs” and timber.
    Professor Adisa Azapagic, FREng, Chair of the Academy’s working group on biofuels, said when the report was published: “With the right safeguards and monitoring, biofuels from waste, in particular, are well worth pursuing from a sustainability point of view, and can also provide business opportunities for development.”
    One other consideration is that the viscosity of these biofuels and biolubes, such as the “Environmentally Acceptable Oxymoron” has the same impact on marine fauna as mineral-oils, should they spill into the sea. Just because it says “Bio” on the tin does not necessarily mean it is harmless to marine life, or indeed, ship systems.

  2. Using land and its agricultural produce to move people and/or goods is pervers and is not the way forward. Back to the drawing table Shipping Industry and come with better and sustainable solutions.

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