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New report on role of biofuels in shipping launched at COP25

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The Sustainable Shipping Initiative (SSI) has launched a new report on the role of biofuels in the decarbonisation of the shipping sector at the United National Climate Change Conference (COP25).

The report, titled ‘The role of sustainable biofuels in the decarbonisation of shipping: the findings of an inquiry into the sustainability and availability of biofuels for shipping’, was commissioned by the SSI in January 2019.

It reflects a broad stakeholder consultation process to explore the potential role of biofuels in the decarbonisation of shipping. SSI shared key conclusions and recommendations with COP25 participants, alongside two of the association’s members: WWF and the China Navigation Company.

As the shipping industry looks to rapidly decarbonise by 2050, zero-carbon fuels, such as biofuels, will need to become commercially available. These may be produced from either renewable electricity, biomass or natural gas with carbon capture and storage.

Biofuels derived from biomass may be an attractive option for the shipping sector; biomass can be used as a feedstock to produce alcohol fuels such as ethanol and methanol, liquefied biogas (LBG) and biodiesel.-

Research carried out by SSI indicates that in the short-term, biofuels could have a significant role to play to accelerate early decarbonisation action across the maritime sector. The data suggests that the sustainable biofuels currently available are under-utilised and could potentially meet the shipping industry’s current energy needs.

However, in the medium to longer-term, this supply may be limited, particularly given the scaling up of climate ambition and the resulting potential demand pressure across all sectors.

Responses to report findings

Andrew Stephens, executive director at SSI, said: “In 2018, SSI commissioned research, which revealed that zero-emission vessels need to be entering the world’s fleet by 2030, citing advanced biofuels as one of the more economically feasible options, amongst a possible range of low/zero carbon fuels for the shipping industry.

“SSI supports a zero-emission shipping sector by 2050 whilst being both fuel- and technology-agnostic. We’re also about collaboration across the entire shipping value chain. Through this inquiry we have canvassed a diverse range of perspectives, from a wide range of stakeholders, surrounding the issues of sustainability and availability of biofuels for shipping. We’re very pleased to be sharing our findings with (and beyond) the maritime industry to contribute to its decarbonisation efforts.”

Fernanda de Carvalho, global policy manager for WWF’s Climate and Energy Practice, said: “To keep open the window to limiting warming to 1.5 degrees, all sectors must transition to zero-carbon technologies by 2050. For long-distance international shipping, this is a tough but feasible challenge. New supply of low and zero-carbon fuels at scale will be key, and the sustainability, risks and life cycle impacts of these fuels must be taken into account. This report provides important insights to inform consideration of the role of biofuels in the short, medium and long-term decarbonisation of the sector.”

Katharine Palmer, Lloyd’s Register’s global sustainability manager, said: “If shipping is to successfully decarbonise by 2050 and get zero-emission vessels into the market by 2030, urgent action is needed now. SSI’s report ‘The Role of Sustainable Biofuels in the Decarbonisation of Shipping’ is a proactive step in the right direction and, as a founding member of the Initiative, we are proud to support SSI’s leading role in providing insight into the sustainability of biofuels.

“Last year, we identified biofuels may have a role to play in the short-term in our Zero-Emission Vessels 2030 study, outlining its key issues – availability and sustainability. SSI’s latest report is the next chapter, investigating biofuels’ role in shipping’s decarbonisation journey, answering key questions about its durability as a long-term fuel and its associated risk landscape. This report will help maritime decision-makers evaluate biofuels to see if it is a suitable pathway for them and rightfully continue the discussion about zero carbon alternatives in maritime.”

Simon Bennett, general manager – sustainable development at China Navigation Company, said: “The shipping sector must act now, without waiting to be bound by legislation as by then it will be too late to meet necessary targets, but we cannot act alone. We need to coalesce and align on sustainable solutions for radical decarbonisation, taking action to mitigate the Climate Crisis we find ourselves in, in the short-, medium- and longer-term – and the energy transition in between.

“Finding solutions needs businesses both within and upstream of the sector, together with policy makers to work together in transition planning, recognising the potential opportunities as well as the risks posed by the various potential substitute fuels and technologies. While biofuels represents one of the solutions today, we need to continue innovating, investing in and scaling up other potential options to carry us through and beyond 2050.”

The SSI report can be accessed online here.