Prospects for Renewable Marine Fuels – the Potential Role of Biofuels

Prospects for Renewable Marine Fuels – the Potential Role of Biofuels


Julia Hansson, IVL Swedish Environmental Research Institute, Selma Brynolf, Chalmers University of Technology, Maria Grahn, Chalmers University of Technology


The overall aim of this study is to assess the role of renewable fuels in the shipping sector. For example it includes a multi-criteria analysis of selected alternative marine fuels and energy systems modelling.


The overall aim of this study is to assess the role of renewable fuels and in particular the role of biofuels and electrofuels in the shipping sector and to contribute with scientifically based decision support for the choice of renewable fuels to industry, policy makers and other actors. The study includes (i) a synthesis of knowledge on alternative marine fuels including selected technical, environmental and economic aspects and a mapping of ongoing activities in the shipping sector to introduce renewable fuels, (ii) an initial assessment of factors influencing the choice of marine fuel, and (iii) a multi-criteria analysis of selected alternative marine fuels specifically including some biofuels, aiming at providing a structured picture of pros and cons of different marine fuels.

The CO2 emissions from the shipping industry until 2050 and beyond is expected to increase due to expected enhanced demand of shipping transports (ICCT, 2011; Smith et al., 2014; Vergara et al., 2012). The global share of anthropogenic CO2 emissions from ships is about 2 percent, but might increase substantially if no action is taken (Smith et al., 2014). The EU aim for a reduction of GHG emissions from the shipping sector by 40-50% in 2050 compared to 2005. What are the possibilities for decarbonisation of the shipping industry? Some of the measures discussed are energy efficiency, use of biofuels and use of hydrogen. Research indicates that energy efficiency measures are not enough (UNCTAD, 2011; Eide et al., 2011; Hoffmann et al., 2012). Thus, in order to reduce the environmental and climate impact of shipping, in the short and long term, the introduction of alternative fuels is required. However, there is a need for more knowledge on the potential for different alternative marine fuels. For example, what is the potential role of biofuels as marine fuels? This is also of interest since the global sustainable biomass resource base is limited while the demand for biofuels for transport is expected to increase.

Another fuel option for the transport sector in general and the shipping sector in particular, is electrofuels, which could originate from biomass. Electrofuels (also called power-to-gas/liquids/fuels or synthetic fuels) are synthetic hydrocarbons, e.g. methane or methanol, produced from carbon dioxide (CO2) and water with electricity as primary energy source. Electrofuels are also considered in this study.

At present, liquefied natural gas (LNG), fossil based methanol and electricity (for short distance shipping) are used in a few ships today. Initial findings indicate that it is cost-effective to start the phase out of fuel oil from the shipping sector in the next decade and natural gas based fuels (such as liquefied natural gas and methanol are the most probable initial substitutes. However, the role of biofuels in the shipping sector depends on the available amount of biomass for bioenergy and the competition for bioenergy from other energy sectors as well as the potential supply of oil resources and certain costs e.g., liquefied natural gas tank cost. Biofuels and electrofuels may play a role in the future shipping sector. To what extent is further assessed in this study.

This study is performed within the Shift (Sustainable Horizons in Future Transport) project funded by Nordic Energy Research.

Eide, M.S., Longva, T., Hoffmann, P., et al., 2011. Future cost scenarios for reduction of ship CO2 emissions. Maritime Policy & Management 38(1), 11-37.

Hoffmann, P. N.; Eide, M. S.; Endresen, Ø., 2012. Effect of proposed CO2 emission reduction scenarios on capital expenditure. Maritime Policy & Management 39(4), 443-460.

ICCT, 2011. Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Ships - Cost Effectiveness of Available Options, White Paper Number 11, July, International Council on Clean Transportation.

Smith, T.W.P., Jalkanen, J.P., Anderson, B.A., Corbett, J.J., et al., 2014. Third IMO GHG Study 2014,
International Maritime Organization (IMO), London.

UNCTAD, 2011. Review of Maritime Transport 2011; United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD): Geneva, Switzerland,.

Vergara, J., McKesson, C., Walczak, M., 2012. Sustainable energy for the marine sector. Energy Policy 49, 333-345


Association for European Transport