Shipping is one of the last remaining parts of our global transport networks to feel the effects of regulations designed to reduce pollution and mitigate climate change.
New regulations from the International maritime Organisation kick in this month to limit the maximum sulphur content of fuel oils used by shipping to 0.10 per cent m/m.
On the horizon, more change is on the way, especially in Europe.
The European Commission (EC) state that emissions from the global shipping industry amount to around one billion tonnes a year, accounting for three per cent of the world’s total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and four per cent of the EU’s total emissions.
The EC’s plan to reduce emissions will be begin by introducing a system for monitoring, reporting and verifying (MRV) emissions from large ships using European Union ports.
The Commission proposes that the MRV system apply to shipping activities carried out from 1 January 2018. To become law, the proposal requires approval by the European Parliament and Council.
Whilst major regulatory change is always difficult for any industry, there are some interesting projects being developed using chemical engineering principles to ease the transition.
The trio are working together to create a sustainable biofuel made from Norwegian forest wood waste for use by the shipping industry.
The ReShip project, which will use low quality wood waste, chippings and unmerchantable wood left in forests after logging has occurred to produce new biofuels.
Fast pyrolysis will be used to process the wood and convert it into crude pyrolysis oil.
Unfortunately, compared to petroleum-based oil, crude pyrolysis oil cannot be used for direct use in diesel engines as it is too unstable.
However, professor of chemical engineering at Aston University, Tony Bridgwater, is looking to stabilise the freshly produced pyrolysis biofuel through mild, rapid, low temperature catalytic hydrogen treatment.
In cooperation with colleagues in Norway they will also seek to blend the bio-oil with conventional diesel and surfactant to form a multi-component fuel.
The most promising fuels will then be engine tested to assess their quality and use for potential marine transport.
Earlier this year, Tony said: “This project will establish a knowledge platform for cost-effective production of all new sustainable fuels which have the potential to completely alter marine travel.
“All of the wood sourced will be from Norwegian forests, which represent a significant resource for bioenergy production. There is a net positive increment in biomass in Norway – it is growing faster than it is being consumed.
“We hope to pave the way for large-scale biofuel production by 2020, in a way that is completely sustainable and doesn’t impact on land usage.
“Aston University’s experience in fast pyrolysis and biofuel production technologies for biomass and biofuel products will contribute considerably in making that goal a reality.”
In Scandinavia, fast pyrolysis oil production is rapidly becoming commercialised. Energy company Fortum is to invest €20m in an integrate bio-oil plant, while Swedish packing firm, Billerud, received €32m from the European Commission to build a new biofuel plant based on forest residues.
Necessity is the mother of invention and chemical engineers are yet again showing their maternal instincts to protect our planet.