In a national first, scientists from Hong Kong’s largest shipping fuel supplier claim to have synthesized an environmentally friendly biofuel for use in marine cargo vessels.
The newly developed propellant has a significantly lower carbon footprint than the standard heavy fuel oil, or bunker fuel, found in most commercial freight shipping, according to a senior executive from its creator, Chimbusco Pan Nation Petro-Chemical.
Japanese shipping giant, Kawasaki Kisen Kaisha, sometimes stylised as ‘K-Line’, became the first firm to use the biofuel blend when it refuelled one of its cargo vessels in September, according to company deputy general manager Calvin Chung dik-Hong.
Chimbusco, which delivered its first batch of biofuel to K-Line in August, created its novel blend from a combination of bunker fuel (76 per cent) and cooking oil-based biodiesel (24 per cent), developed by Hong Kong-based renewables company, ASB-biodiesel.
The blend has a carbon footprint up to 84 per cent lower than standard shipping fuels, resulting in up to 20 per cent fewer emissions per vessel.
Importantly, shipping firms do not have to make engine adjustments to transition to a more sustainable alternative, according to Chung.
Chimbusco’s biofuel has an emissions reduction rate comparable to hydrotreated vegetable oil (HVO) – a biodiesel made from waste oil and treated with a hydrogen catalyst. However, HVO is between 30 and 40 per cent more expensive.
While HVO is tolerated by engines without the need to enrich it with secondary fuels, its steep price makes it a harder sell to shipping firms, according to Chimbusco trader, Wan Ka-kit.
Chimbusco insiders believe demand for the company’s product will increase significantly when emissions regulations set by the European Union for the freight shipping industry kick in next year.
All vessels surpassing a gross tonnage of 5 000 tons entering EU ports will have to comply with the bloc’s ‘cap-and-trade’ scheme that limits the total amount of greenhouse gases allowed to be emitted by companies wishing to operate in the region.
Singapore has adopted the newly developed biofuel and now accounts for at least one per cent of the city-state’s marine fuel consumption just two years after adopting it, according to the Hong Kong-based news agency, South China Morning Post.
Chimbusco would continue to research environmentally friendly fuel options as the maritime industry seeks to meet decarbonisation goals set by the International Maritime Organisation (IMO), Chung told the South China Morning Post.
There are several possible alternatives, including liquid natural gas, ammonia and even solar power, each with their own unique advantages and disadvantages, Chung added.