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Multi-Industry Coalition Aims to Change the Fuel of Ocean Shipping

A.P. Moller-Maersk and Wallenius Wilhelmsen have teamed up with Copenhagen University and major customers BMW Group, H&M Group, Levi Strauss & Co. and Marks & Spencer to form the LEO Coalition to explore the environmental and commercial viability of LEO fuel for shipping.

LEO, a blend of lignin and ethanol, is seen as a future solution for sustainable shipping. The coalition and its mission follow a recently released study from Maersk and Lloyd’s Register that said the best-positioned fuels for research and development into net zero fuels for shipping are alcohol, including ethanol, biomethane and ammonia.

The study explained that alcohols such as ethanol and methanol are not highly toxic liquids, with various possible production methods–directly from biomass and/or via renewable hydrogen combined with carbon from either biomass or carbon capture. Existing solutions for handling the low flash point and for burning alcohols are also well established. In addition, ethanol and methanol are fully mixable in the vessel’s bunker tanks, creating bunkering flexibility.

Biomethane and ammonia, on the other hand, present certain problems. One is “methane slip,” which is the emission of unburned methane along the entire supply chain. Ammonia is carbon free and can be produced from renewable electricity, but it is highly toxic and even small accidents can create major risks to the crew and the environment, the study warned.

Ocean shipping is responsible for 2 percent to 3 percent of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, so the industry has significant potential to help create a carbon-neutral economy by 2050, the study emphasized.

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Maersk also noted that around 80 percent of consumer goods are delivered by sea.

“Shipping requires bespoke low-carbon fuel solutions which can make the leap from the laboratory to the global shipping fleet,” Søren Toft, Maersk chief operating officer, said. “Initiatives such as the LEO Coalition are an important catalyst in this process.”

Toft explained that lignin is a structural bio-polymer that contributes to the rigidity of plants. Lignin is isolated in large quantities as a byproduct of lignocellulosic ethanol and pulp and paper mills. Currently, it is often incinerated to produce steam and electricity.

“Our customers’ ambitions on sustainability are increasing rapidly and we applaud this development,” said Craig Jasienski, CEO of Wallenius Wilhelmsen, a market leader in roll-on, roll-off shipping and vehicle logistics. “Clearly, LEO would be a great step forward for supply chain sustainability and it has the potential to be a viable solution for today’s fleet, and not just a future vision.”

Leading companies in many sectors are actively exploring solutions to reduce emissions along their entire value chains, as part of the global recognition of the importance of sustainably meeting the world’s demand for goods, Maersk said, including the transportation and logistics sector that delivers those goods.

Helena Helmersson, chief operating officer at H&M Group, described climate change as “an ongoing reality and a key challenge to all industries, including fashion.”

“We are aware of our responsibility to stay within the planetary boundaries and are committed to reduce our impact in every aspect of our value chain, including how our products are shipped to consumers around the world,” Helmersson said. “This coalition gives us the opportunity to explore the development of a low-carbon fuel for shipping today.”

Copenhagen University is currently running the laboratory-scale development of this potential marine fuel. The project aims to move into phase II–testing the fuel on actual vessel engines–in the second quarter of 2020. Following a successful phase II, phase III–the scaling up of LEO fuel production–will begin.