Update on Potential of Biofuels in Shipping

Among the broad spectrum of technology and fuel-solution pathways available to ship designers, builders, owners and operators, biofuels potentially offer medium and long-term marine fuel alternatives that can enter the market relatively quickly; they also offer the potential, if sustainability criteria are met, to reduce carbon emissions compared to traditional carbon-based fossil fuels.

While the current use of biofuels in marine-engine applications is very limited (the IMO 2020 Data Collection System (DCS) indicated that 99.91% of marine fuels used are still carbon-based conventional fuels), there is significant potential for biofuels to capture a larger share of total maritime fuel consumption and support the EU and IMO’s GHG-reduction ambitions for the maritime industry. Recent regulatory developments in the EU regarding GHG emissions and the lifecycle aspect of fuels provide a basket of measures in line with climate goals and could accelerate their adoption.

The ‘drop-in’ properties of biofuels, that is the ability to replace conventional petroleum-refined hydrocarbons without substantial modification, and in some cases without any modification, to engines, fuel tanks, pumps or supply systems, may provide an immediate, attractive and cost-effective solution for the existing fleet.

This report is an update of an earlier study by EMSA on biofuels, examining the full range of biofuels, both liquid and gaseous, from the perspective of current production capacity, storage-and-distribution infrastructure and power-generation technologies; it also includes techno-economic analyses and risk-based case studies to evaluate their potential for the maritime sector.

This study also clearly identifies the key advantages of using biofuels in shipping, as well as the remaining challenges and technology and regulatory gaps that prevent immediate application.

This report was commissioned by the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA) under framework contract EMSA/OP/43/2020.