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Joint Effort Results in Successful Trials of a New “Drop-In” Marine Biofuel

Boskalis’ cutter suction dredge Edax at work in the Markermeer in the Netherlands, site of the drop-in biofuel trial and one of the largest nature restoration projects in Western Europe.

Boskalis’ cutter suction dredge Edax at work in the Markermeer in the Netherlands, site of the drop-in biofuel trial and one of the largest nature restoration projects in Western Europe.

The biofuel test engine in the Wärtsilä laboratory in Vaasa, Finland.

As part of a two-year biofuels pilot program conducted by a consortium formed by Royal Boskalis, GoodFuels Marine and Wärtsilä, a new “drop-in” marine biofuel has been successfully tested. Boskalis’s cutter suction dredge Edax, working for five months at the Marker Wadden Nature Restoration Project in the Netherlands, has shown positive results, ac-cording to a report issued in September. 

The consortium comprisng the three companies was announced in October 2015 with a commitment to try to accelerate the development of sustainable, scalable and affordable marine biofuels. Biofuels, such as ethanol and biomethane, have been used for other transportation sectors. However, before the start of this program, biofuels have not been part of the marine fuel mix from which operators and owners can choose. That means that the shipping industry has been missing an opportunity to utilize what should be an environmentally friendly fuel choice. With this new innovative option, the dredging and maritime industries will be able to contribute toward the global efforts to reduce carbon and other emissions.

“Drop-in” bio-fuels are liquid hydrocarbons that function in the same way as petroleum-derived fuels. This means that they can effectively be “dropped in” to existing infrastructure on board vessels. In effect, they can be inter-changed with conventional fuels, which have higher carbon emissions. Ships do not need to adapt their infrastructure, although in some cases minimal engine modifications may be necessary.

A variety of biofuels were first extensively ground tested at the Wärtsilä laboratory in Vaasa, Finland, before going over to trials at sea. Wärtsilä is a global supplier of engines and power systems to the marine industry. The bio-fuel was developed by GoodFuels Marine, a provider of sustainable marine fuels based in the Netherlands. The fuel supplied by Finnish UPM Biofuels is the first ever biofuel derived from wood residue used in a marine fleet. 

GoodFuels Marine and Boskalis have extensively tested UPM BioVerno, a wood-based renewable diesel, on the dredge Edax. The Edax is a 1,696 deadweight ton (DWT) cutter suction dredge, which successfully used the fuel in bio/fossil blends going up to 50 percent, working on phase one of the Marker Wadden restoration project during the first half of 2016. This resulted in a CO2 saving of 600 metric tons (Mt) over the duration of the operating period. Greenhouse and CO2 emissions are measured in metric tons. 
UPM BioVerno is a blend made out of lignocellulosic waste streams from a Finnish paper and pulp company. Lignin is the wood polymer that provides structural support to plant tissues. Lignin is also a by-product of many industrial processes – for example, the production of cellulose from wood – and is therefore available in large quantities for use as an energy source. The successful test of this biofuel is a milestone for the marine bio-fuel three-member team.

To appreciate the impact of developing sustainable fuels one should put it in the context of the regulations in force from the International Maritime Organization (IMO), a part of the United Nations. The treaties acceded to in the last decade have very strict mandatory measures to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases (GHG) and “regulations on energy efficiency for ships.” This includes one set of emission and fuel quality restrictions for general global requirements and a second set, which has more stringent requirements applicable to ships in “Emission Control Areas” (ECA). 

An Emission Control Area can be designated for SOx and PM, or NOx, or all three types of emissions from ships. At this time existing Emission Control Areas include the Baltic Sea (for SOx); the North Sea (SOx); the North American Emission Control Area, which includes most of the U.S. and Canadian coast-lines (NOx and SOx); and the U.S. Caribbean area, which covers Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands (NOx and SOx). 

Sustainable marine biofuels offer ship opera-tors a way to reduce a vessel’s CO2 emissions by 80 to 90 percent, bringing them in compliance with present regulations but also with an eye to future regulations. They eliminate SOx emissions, cut NOx emissions by up to 10 percent and reduce particulate matter (PM) expelled in a ship’s exhaust plume by 50 percent. Current forecasts indicate that marine bio-fuels could make up between five to 10 percent of the marine fuel mix by 2030, significantly contributing toward the reduction of the shipping industry’s carbon footprint.

The decision by the consortium to test the new biofuel at the Marker Wadden Lake was appropriate, given that it is of one of the largest nature restoration projects in Western Europe. The project hopes to transform the eco-logically compromised Markermeer Lake into a dynamic area rich in animal and plant life. The ‐33 million EUR project also includes the creation of a series of nature islands to be built using sand, clay and fine sediment, as well as the construction of a very specifically designed underwater landscape which should naturally re-store the Markermeer’s delicate ecosystem.

In March 2016, Boskalis started work on Stage One of Markermeer project, creating the first large island as well as a marshland with vegetation, shallow ponds, creeks and channels. The newly restored area will be about 300 hectares (740 acres), both above and below the wa-ter’s surface. The construction of beaches, sand banks and low dunes linked by a rock dam will protect the island from storms and winds. 

The project is designed to make gradual transitions from land to water and to shape various levels underwater, which will allow sediment to settle in shallow sections and creeks. This will result in a natural water filtering and purification system. A special trench to collect the fine sediments from the lake will encircle the area, as a means of making the presently turbid water clear again. The sediment captured in the trench can later be used to construct other islands. The successful performance of the new biofuel during the test period from March to August adds to the sustainability value of this already ecologically responsible dredging project. 

In the long term, the goal of the Boskalis-GoodFuels-Wärtsilä consortium is to deliver and analyze a sustainable source of energy, se-cure industry certification and prepare building blocks for large-scale production. Additionally, the consortium plans to initiate a global scalability study involving leading ship owners, universities, NGOs, ports, bio-fuel companies and other industry stakeholders. The development of sustainable “drop in” marine biofuels and their potential as part of the long-term fuel mix is an important element in improving the sustainability of the maritime industry.  

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