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Tsvetana Paraskova

Tsvetana Paraskova

Tsvetana is a writer for Oilprice.com with over a decade of experience writing for news outlets such as iNVEZZ and SeeNews. 

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Biofuel Feedstock Shortage Hinders Green Shipping Ambitions

The world’s largest shipping company, A.P. Moller Maersk A/S, aims to have net-zero carbon dioxide emissions from its own ocean operations by 2050 as the industry responsible for around 3 percent of global CO2 emissions looks to boost sustainable seaborne transportation.   Yet, the ambition of Maersk, and that of other shipping firms, clashes with the scarcity of feedstock for biofuels, amid limited availability of the key ingredient for producing biofuels—used cooking oil. 

The problem with running ships on green fuels is not the vessel technology; it’s the fuel product scarcity, Maersk’s chief executive Søren Skou told Bloomberg earlier this month.  

“We can’t keep scaling it. If our growth rates continue, we will run out of cooking oil in one or two years,” Skou noted. 

Maersk has committed to decarbonize its operations and slash its CO2 emissions by 60 percent by 2030 compared to 2008 levels and have net-zero CO? emissions from its own ocean operations by 2050. The biggest shipping company in the world, which operates a fleet of more than 700 vessels, says it is also working with customers, partners, and regulators to build the market, fuel supply chains, and policy frameworks to support net-zero emissions shipping.

Maersk is foregoing any transitional technologies to power its ships, such as liquefied natural gas (LNG), as it believes “that the right thing to do is to leapfrog to pure net-zero vessel technology without any transitional technologies.” 

“Any talk about so-called transition fossil fuels is simply not relevant from our perspective, it’s simply not solving the problem,” Maersk’s head of decarbonisation, Morten Bo Christiansen, said on an online briefing in May, as carried by Euractiv.

Maersk wants pure net-zero vessel powering fuels, but they are not so easy to source right now. 

“[T]he ship technology is not the limiting factor, but the availability of the green fuels is,” CEO Skou told Bloomberg. “It’s a new global energy system that needs to be built and that’s a massive challenge.”

Related: U.S. Rig Count Ticks Higher Amid Oil Price Slide

There are challenges in green fuel procurement, according to Maersk’s analysis of four priority fuels that it has identified for net-zero emissions shipping.

Biodiesel’s key advantage is that it can be used as a drop-in fuel in existing vessels and engines. Still, the limited availability of feedstock challenges future scalability while prices rise because of high demand for biofuels from other industries. 

Production at scale of another fuel, bio-methanol, is also challenged by uncertainty over the availability of biomass, while e-methanol would depend on the cost and maturity of electrolyzer technology. 

Then there is a new biofuel based on lignin—biomass residue—which is promising, but it is still in the development stage and may require additional handling of contaminants. 

Ammonia can be sourced from renewable electricity alone, but limitations include safety and toxicity challenges, infrastructure challenges at port, and the cost/maturity curve of electrolyzer technology, Maersk says. 

Limitations are not stopping the shipping giant, though, and it continues to announce various deals and initiatives aimed at decarbonizing seaborne transport. 

Maersk said in February that it would launch the world’s first carbon-neutral liner vessel in 2023—seven years ahead of the initial 2030-ambition. All future Maersk-owned new buildings will have dual-fuel technology installed, enabling either carbon-neutral operations or operation on standard very low sulfur fuel oil (VLSFO).


Just this week, Maersk announced that it had identified its partners to produce green fuel for its first vessel to operate on carbon-neutral methanol: REintegrate, a subsidiary of Danish renewable energy company European Energy. 

“This type of partnership could become a blueprint for how to scale green fuel production through collaboration with partners across the industry ecosystem, and it will provide us with valuable experiences as we are progressing on our journey to decarbonise our customers’ supply chains,” said Henriette Hallberg Thygesen, CEO of Fleet & Strategic Brands at Maersk.  

“Sourcing the fuels of the future is a significant challenge, and we need to be able to scale production in time,” Thygesen noted.

By Tsvetana Paraskova for Oilprice.com

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Leave a comment
  • Dan Scott on August 23 2021 said:
    Many of the challenges mentioned with ammonia are being addressed by companies now (FuelPositive, Starfire Energy, AMM Power). For example, modular solutions for green NH3 onsite production at commercial scale are less than a year from demonstration. Is Maersk really trying to find solutions by funding any of there emerging solutions? Full disclosure, I'm an investor in FuelPositive. So yes, I'm doing my part.

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