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Home Decarbonisation Campaign Seaforestation could transform the decarbonisation debate

Seaforestation could transform the decarbonisation debate

Finding alternative fuels that will meet International Maritime Organization and Paris Agreement targets within the next 10 years is a challenge. Some in the maritime sector believe that this challenge cannot be overcome, but necessity is the mother of invention, to coin a phrase. The question is, do fossil fuel producers want to see that innovation?

Time, in the race to beat the climate catastrophe, is of the essence. Globally, industries are looking to achieve low, or zero carbon emissions and the maritime sector is no different in this respect.

Critical moments in history such as these are rare, but the climate challenge is real and must be tackled before the damage becomes irreversible. How those changes will happen is a heated debate, not only globally, but also within the maritime industry. And this debate will continue at the International Maritime Organization in its June MEPC meeting.

Kirsi Tikka, formerly with class society ABS, now an independent board director, she believes that it is too early to tell which fuel will prove to be the key to decarbonising shipping.

“Decarbonising shipping to net zero will require green fuels with no CO2 emissions or fuels that are used in combination with carbon capture. Similarly, the fuels must be produced by methods with no CO2 emissions or by methods that are combined with carbon capture. This includes biofuels, considered to be carbon neutral,” said Tikka.

In order to achieve this, it is necessary to “Have sufficient supply of alternative energy that can be used to produce these new fuels, or sufficient supply of biomass to produce biofuels without sacrificing food production.” This part of decarbonisation and will need to be addressed by the energy industry, Tikka pointed out.

It is with this in mind that we look at the oceans as a possible saviour. Not only do they have the potential to create food, but the seas can also absorb massive amounts of atmospheric carbon dioxide and offer energy too. Hyperbole? Perhaps.

Two and half weeks ago the UK’s Guardian reported on the “Rice of the seas” that can feed the world, this week Container News, announces Dr Abdelrahman Zaky’s the age of the Coastal Integrated Marine Biorefinery (CIMB) system through seaforestation. Not such a snappy name but wait until you see its moves.

Based at Edinburgh University, Dr Zaky has spent two years developing the idea of the CIMB system, which evolved from the need to remove 100gigatonnes of carbon from the atmosphere. He says this is the amount needed to maintain global warming at 1.5degs Celsius or below, according to climate scientists, taking into account the reaching of net zero by 2050. And Zaky argues that while we do not have enough arable land or freshwater to remove this amount of atmospheric carbon dioxide, seaweed can be farmed on a massive scale in the oceans, with the capacity to capture sufficient carbon dioxide to maintain safer levels of global warming in few years.

Dr Abdelrahman Zaky.

Seaforestation is the planting of seagrass and seaweeds in coastal regions and near to offshore windfarms. Marine yeast will be used to ferment seaweed to produce bioethanol. Carbon dioxide generated during the fermentation process of seaweed to bioethanol can be stored in the ocean or used to cultivate marine microalgae as a source of biodiesel and high value chemicals, in what Dr Zaky said is an example of carbon capture storage and utilisation (CCSU).

Marine microalgae is also a great candidate for decarbonisation. It can capture carbon from the atmosphere at a rate 400 times faster than terrestrial trees. That is a hectare of microalgae can capture as much carbon as 400 hectares of trees. A CIMB produces fuels as well as other useful chemicals such as ammino acids, minerals, pigments and vitamins, salt, animal feed and distilled water.

In addition, the whole CIMB operates as an energy storage system for the other renewable energy systems such as offshore and inshore wind, solar and tide energy, said Zaky. He added, the system is flexible so it can be adjusted to produce the type of fuel required at the time, while not using valuable arable land or depleting scarce fresh-water resources.

“If we plant seaweeds we can fix the carbon in the atmosphere and because the oceans cover 72% of the Earth’s surface, which is uninhabited, we have plenty of room to capture atmospheric carbon and produce as much fuel as is needed, but even so with the oceans they are deep so you don’t need to consider only the surface, but you can produce seaweed in layers, going deeper with each farmed layer,” explained Zaky.

An early version of the Coastal Integrated Marine Biorefinery (CIMB) system. Courtesy Dr A. Zaky.

Zaky, however, also had some advice for governments around the globe, “It is essential for governments to pay fair compensation to industries operating processes that involve CCS or CCSU and to stop subsidising the fossil fuel industry in order that green fuels and eco-friendly systems can be developed, survive and compete.”

One of the key promising elements of the Zaky CIMB system is that it is based on technologies that are already in existence, “The only requirement is the economics and the political will,” he said.

It is a view that is shared by a number of key industry people, including Kirsi Tikka. “The impact on the climate must be included in the economics to make green solutions competitive. Sources of financing, investment focus, incentives and regulations will give an indication of the fuel pathways. With all likelihood, the pathways will vary between industry sectors, but for ocean going ships, a level of standardisation and scale is needed to keep the costs down and availability of fuel secured.”

This is a theme that was picked up by the Dutch biofuel producer, GoodFuels, who’s chief commercial officer, Isabel Welten, argues that there is “A need for greater incentives and regulatory framework for the use of low-carbon fuels globally in order to decrease the use of fossil fuels.”

Welten said that there has been a shift with the UK recently deciding to include international aviation and shipping emissions in its Carbon Budgets, which she regards as a “positive step towards reducing carbon emissions from the transport industries.”

However, Welten believes that “lack of IMO action in both the short and long term is becoming more and more evident.” That inaction could lead to Europe enacting its own regional climate regulations, in the form of the EU Emissions Trading System.

It is, said Welten, “Easier to pass and implement legislation under the European Parliament with only 27 countries to debate, rather than 170 plus.”

GoodFuels has an openly discussed commercial interest in the delivery of such regulation. Any rules that make biofuels more attractive could see the company develop more for fuels at a greater scale.

“We’re happy to see that the market is already demonstrating the feasibility of marine biofuels in a technical, operational, and commercial means,” explained Welten, but she challenges the often-voiced view that biofuels cannot be produced in sufficient quantities to meet marine demand.

“Our message has always been that biofuels will make up an important part of the future fuel mix alongside other future fuels. The key difference is that biofuels are available to support decarbonisation progress today,” said Welten, further arguing that, “We don’t expect the container shipping industry to switch over to biofuels instantly, so scaling today is crucial for sufficient sustainable supply towards the future.”

GoodFuels argues that constant innovation is crucial to providing the market with alternative fuels and the company is working on new fuels to bring to market. “Unlocking new technologies to work with other feedstocks, such as sawdust, municipal solid waste and agricultural residues, is exactly what we’re currently working on with our partners in order to meet the demand for the future,” explained Welten.

Isabel Welten, CCO, GoodFuels,

She went on to say that the company is advocating for biofuels to be used in industries where decarbonisation is most problematic such as the marine and aviation industries. “From a production perspective, these repurposed streams could be quite complementary, and help us to scale up the use of the fuel even faster.”

A report by The World Bank, “Charting A Course For Decarbonising Maritime Transport” published on 15 April, on future marine fuels concluded that, “Although identified as being cost-effective to produce in the short term, biofuels are unlikely to serve as a large-scale bunker fuel without a significant technological breakthrough in aquatic biomass production.”

According to The World Bank report the competing need for land that serves food production and other uses, combined with competing fuel demands sectors such as power, plastics and aviation, means that synthetic carbon-based fuels were identified as being less competitive from a cost perspective due to lower efficiency in production and the dependence on direct air capture for CO2 inputs, a technology whose scalability has yet to be proven.

In its conclusion The World Bank arrived at the same point as many involved in the maritime sector, namely that green ammonia and hydrogen are the most promising zero-carbon options for the immediate future, with a number of industry research units and companies involved in ammonia development.

More on this tomorrow with a Container News interview with ShippingLabs, a research organisation established to find solutions that will allow the industry to meet transitional and long-term carbon targets.

Meanwhile, The World Bank report said, “In particular, green ammonia and green hydrogen were identified as today’s most promising options, when compared to biofuels and synthetic carbon-based fuels, due to their relative balance of favourable features such as lifecycle GHG emissions, broader environmental factors, scalability, economics, and technical and safety implications.”

In previous Decarbonisation Campaign stories, Container News has identified two strands of thought within maritime for achieving the industry’s carbon targets. The CMA CGM path through the use of LNG as a transitional fuel; and the Maersk path transitioning directly to a zero carbon option, most likely ammonia or methanol.

According to The World Bank, “LNG is likely to play a limited role as a bunker fuel both before 2030 and from 2030 to 2050. The report reached this conclusion because of the lack of an unequivocal argument for GHG benefits, in combination with the weakness of other commercial or technological justifications associated with LNG serving as a transitional or temporary fuel. Nonetheless, LNG is still expected to be used in niche applications such as on privileged routes with existing supply infrastructure, in specific vessel types, or in places with strong domestic interests favouring it.”

However, the report went on to suggest in its assessment that “Ammonia is preferred due to its lower onboard storage space and the cost benefits that arise from its higher energy density, lower flammability, and less demanding cooling requirements (that is, -33°C). However, ammonia’s toxicity and corrosiveness require design and management measures to maintain an acceptable level of risk.”

Research into the use of ammonia is progressing with the Maersk McKinney Moller Center for Zero Carbon Technology, which is also a member of the Shipping Labs consortium, Maersk and other partners, including engine manufacturer MAN and technology company Alfa Laval, all involved in ammonia projects. In fact MAN has said it will have an ammonia powered engine available by 2024.

While the conclusions from The World Bank are unsurprising to many maritime aficionados, it is an important document that should galvanise governments around the globe. Perhaps its most significant conclusion remains that, “Policy interventions such as carbon pricing are needed to enable the zero-carbon bunker fuel transition in shipping and should support developing countries in their energy transitions.”

This is a measure that was recently called for by the shipping lines themselves. On 21 April this year a number of industry representative bodies, including BIMCO, CLIA, the International Chamber of Shipping, the World Shipping Council among other industry groups, jointly submitted a proposal to the International Maritime Organization (IMO), calling for the UN’s regulatory body to bring forward discussions on market-based measures. “These measures will be critical to incentivise the transition of the global fleet to new fuels and technologies, which will be more expensive than those in use today,” said the submission.

Kirsi Tikka, concludes that, “The clock is ticking to resolve the unknowns and the uncertainties in the fuel and propulsion choices. As has been pointed out by many, the investment needed for decarbonization of shipping will be large including development of technology and fuels, building the fuel infrastructure, replacing and retrofitting the fleet.”

Nick Savvides
Managing Editor

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