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From waste to wow

United European Car Carriers (UECC) wants to turn rubbish into a revolution, leading shipping’s transition to a decarbonised future by tapping into the potential of waste feedstocks. Talking crap has never been so important…

“It’s rubbish,” says Daniel Gent, Energy & Sustainability Manager at UECC. “Stuff like used cooking oil from deep fat fryers – organic matter that would otherwise be thrown away. That waste can be turned into a golden opportunity for the transport sector, particularly for shipping.

“It can lead us into a cleaner tomorrow today, without continually waiting around for the next big thing or making huge investments in modifying existing assets.”

Gent is discussing biofuels.

And he knows what he’s talking about.

Unconventional impact

In March last year UECC started a trial on AUTOSKY, a 20-year-old, 6,500dwt car carrier that regularly transports a capacity of up to 2,080 vehicles on its short-sea hops around Europe. With no need for modification, or significant investment, Autosky’s conventional fuel was swapped for sustainable biofuel from Amsterdam-headquartered GoodFuels. The results were sensational.

The vessel consumed around 6,000 tons of biofuel over the course of the year-long pilot, reducing CO2 emissions by a staggering 20 million kilograms, in addition to a reduction of around 9,000 kilograms of sulphur oxide and a near total elimination of particulate matter.  Overall CO2 per ton-kilometre (the carbon intensity of operations) was slashed by 60%, far beyond IMO’s targeted reduction of 40% inside 2030.

When you consider that, on its current course, global shipping is expected to account for 17% of global CO2-emissions by 2050, this, he argues, is a rapid, easy and available solution to tackle the climate challenge head on.

Today, not tomorrow

“The industry is constantly looking to the future rather than what we can do today,” Gent says. “That’s entirely understandable, as vessels are major investments and you want to future proof them as much as possible – so it’s natural to assess horizon opportunities such as ammonium or hydrogen. But what about the existing fleet? There’s around 50,000 merchant vessels out there, so they’re the urgent issue. How can we address decarbonisation on them, right now? Because the longer we wait the harder it becomes to meet targets and arrest global warming.

“As shown from this trial, biofuel is an excellent way to accelerate the essential energy transition shipping, and society, demands.”

Sustainable commitment

But biofuel has its critics as well as its disciples.

Some focus on the fact that biofuel production can displace food production, leading to inflated prices and limiting availability. Plantations where biofuel raw materials are produced can also contribute to deforestation and biodiversity loss. So, are they really that sustainable after all?

This, the UECC executive says, is where we need to go back to talking rubbish.

“There’s a distinction between biofuels and sustainable biofuels,” he says. “We believe biofuels have to fulfil very strict sustainability criteria and that is at the heart of our procurement policy. So, the fuel feedstocks we use cannot have resulted in land use change, competition with food, deforestation or a loss of biodiversity, and they should also have no higher application elsewhere in industry. They are waste products, end of story.”

He continues: “It’s important to us, and to our customers that specify biofuel, that it must be certified as sustainable, with the ability to track the product through the supply chain right back to its source. Accountability, traceability and responsibility are the keywords here.”

Building on success

With greater governmental support, supply chain development and increased buy-in from climate conscious customers (BMW Group backed the AUTOSKY trial) Gent sees a bright future for biofuel uptake throughout the industry.

It’s already become a key piece of the decarbonisation puzzle for UECC.

“I’m happy to report that we’re continuing with biofuel onboard AUTOSKY,” he notes. “The past 12 months have been a remarkable achievement and we’re keen to build on that success. Furthermore, we’ve already rolled out biofuel on another vessel and now see opportunities to include bioLNG on our Baltic service.”

He concludes: “We’re here to provide low emission or carbon neutral, high quality transport services to our customers and we’ll investigate all viable means of doing so. We believe shipping can meet its targets and be a truly sustainable industry… and the quicker, the better!”

And there’s nothing rubbish about that.

Mar 29 2021


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