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Haley Zaremba

Haley Zaremba

Haley Zaremba is a writer and journalist based in Mexico City. She has extensive experience writing and editing environmental features, travel pieces, local news in the…

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Hydrogen Is Cleaning Up One Of The World’s Dirtiest Industries

Ships at sea

Acceptance is the first step to recovery. One of the world’s dirtiest industries seems to have taken this tenet of the 12-step program to heart. It knows it has a problem, it knows it has to change, and it’s asking for help. That industry is the high-polluting global shipping sector, which currently runs on one of the most emissions-heavy kinds of fuel known to man--a particularly dirty heavy fuel oil also known as bunker fuel. “If all the ships on Earth were a single country, that country would be the sixth-largest polluter in the world.” This jaw-dropping fact comes from an NPR report from late last year. The shipping industry, by way of its massive scale and its dirty fuel, ranks just behind Japan in its pollution levels. But the shipping sector’s open approach to change makes it pretty unique. 

As climate reporter Rebecca Hersher told NPR, “I cover a lot of big pollution-heavy industries as a climate reporter. And shipping has something going for it that's kind of cool, which is that they have publicly acknowledged that they have a problem - they're dirty [...] Second, they're actually trying to change it, which is good.” Putting their money where their mouth is, “Maersk, the largest shipping company in the world, has already promised to go zero carbon by 2050.”

Last year, Oilprice reported on what was then the most promising approach to provide the worldwide shipping industry with a meaner, greener fleet. This would be the implementation of hydrogen fuel cells, a technology that has already been around for decades. Experiments with hydrogen-powered yachts were already underway, and one poll showed that the industry as a whole largely favored the implementation and adoption of hydrogen fuel cells within the next five years.

Related: Hurricane Laura Makes Landfall In Oil Heartland
But the industry has not put all its eggs in one basket. Just this week the Maritime Executive reported on a brand new green shipping fuel option that South Korea is bringing to the table. “A new cooperation of South Korean companies is being formed to develop bio heavy fuel as an alternative for the shipping industry to meet its goal for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions,” wrote the Executive in its Monday report. 

Korean shipping company HMM (formerly Hyundai Merchant Marine) is at the helm of this initiative, backed by “the participation of the Korea Bio Energy Association, Hyundai Heavy Industries, Korea Shipbuilding & Offshore Engineering, and the Korean Register of Shipping to develop and promote the environmentally friendly fuel alternative.” HMM has reportedly already dug into research and development and is already testing bio heavy fuel on large container ships. In making this new partnership, HMM “will seek to expand the testing efforts both onshore and at sea to verify the fuel alternative and its performance.”

This marine biofuel would be created from biomass including “animal and plant oils, along with the production resides from the more common biodiesel fuel.” This reuse, reduce, recycle approach to shipping fuel would make for a much more eco-friendly shipping industry. As HMM has already found the materials as well as tested them out, all that’s left is bringing a product to market. “The partners will work together on R&D efforts to further establish standards for bio heavy oil and to commercialize the fuel through the development of a supply system,” reported the Executive. “If proven successful, the partners believe bio heavy fuel could become an alternative to the current fuels used in the shipping industry.” Related: 3 Oil Majors That Bet Big On Renewables

South Korea is not alone in its efforts to commercialize biofuel that could clean up the shipping industry. GoodFuels, a company based in the Netherlands recently had success with its own sustainable marine bio fuel oil (BFO) “derived from forest residues and waste oil products.” The Durch company’s BFO was put to the test on a 10-day trial voyage of the 50,000 DWT MR tanker Stena Immortal, operated by Stena Bulk. Stena reported that the BFO “proved to be a technically compliant alternative to the fossil fuel typically used for oceangoing tankers” and that “based on the successful trial, Stena Bulk announced that it is introducing a new low-carbon shipping option for customers. The biofuel will be used within the Stena fleet, but because the company cannot confirm fuel availability on a specific route, customers will instead have the option of buying carbon offset credits by contributing to the overall cost of using biofuel aboard the company’s tankers.”

With the huge South Korean team hot on the tail of Stena and GoodFuels, and the implementation of hydrogen fuel cells likely not far behind that, we could be seeing much greener pastures and bluer waters for the shipping industry very soon.

By Haley Zaremba for Oilprice.com 


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