As Global Shipping Targets Zero Carbon, Biofuel Powers Net-Gen Freight!

Fri 12 Jan 24


Global shipping is hoarding massive quantities of biofuels as the industry commits to decarbonise and operate in a net-zero green economy.

It comes as the total “end game” for renewable and biodiesel fuels is “about 70 million tons”, with shipping and aviation consuming the bulk of fuels as freight vehicles, inland and short-sea shipping transition from petrol and diesel fuels to battery-powered electric technology.

As reported in Forbes, more than 930,000 tons of biofuel blends have already been stored in Singapore and Rotterdam, with the Australian government looking to develop one of the world’s largest “Renewable Fuel Hubs” in Portland – home to its “Green Triangle.”

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In September, Wood Central reported that the Australian Government, with the support of the Victorian State Government, is looking to build one of the world’s largest “Renewable Fuel Hubs” in Portland, close to the Green Triangle – Australia’s largest productive forest area – with 160,000 hectares of mature softwood plantations and 110,000 hectares of hardwood plantations.

This “green shift” is part of a massive transformation in global trade, which will see sea trade drop rapidly as cross-border trade in raw materials like processed iron ore, coal, gas, and oil drops dramatically with coal, gas and oil phased out and iron ore consolidating its supply chains.

And in a net zero world, where shipping costs are likely to become much more expensive, demand for multi-country trade in low-value goods is predicted to decimate the market for smaller container freight.

There is already a global scramble for resources, with agricultural economies like Australia looking to develop a renewable fuel market to supply the global economy.

“Australia’s strong agricultural sector means we could be a global leader by scaling up domestic production of renewable fuel for exports,” according to Australia’s Energy Minister Chris Bowen, discussing the power of Sustainable Aviation (and also Marine-based) fuels.

The global shipping industry is responsible for more than 90% of global trade, with petroleum-based fuels responsible for up to 3% of global emissions. Behind construction, it has been one of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change’s targets for decarbonisation.

Sustainable aviation fuel – like marine fuels – plats a key role in the decarbonisation of the economy. Last year, the Bioenergy Australia CEO spoke to Sky News Australia about the role of SAF in Australia’s net zero transition – footage courtesy of @SkyNewsAustralia.

For more than a century, global shipping has relied on just one type of fuel: oil. And until recently, global shipping was one of the most challenging industries to decarbonise.

However, with the introduction of sustainable marine fuels – woody residues from PEFC and FSC-certified forests are now being used to produce hydrogen-based alternatives to petrol – exacerbating demand for global timber supplies.

According to the US Government’s Department of Energy, “most ships are powered by heavy fuel oil (HFO), a residual fuel produced from petroleum refining which emits relatively large amounts of GHG when combusted.” 

However, “sustainable marine fuels provide a promising pathway for lowering GHG emissions compared to HFO and other petroleum-based marine fuels.” 

Producing future marine fuels provides considerable opportunities for scaling up renewable energy production in the Global South – footage courtesy of IMOHQ.

In October 2021, the International Renewable Energy Agency (IEA) published A Pathway to Decarbonise the Shipping Sector by 2050, which analysed the readiness of SMFs for international shipping. 

According to the report, demand for biomass is booming, with shipping and aviation driving a shift to organic waste streams, forest and wood residues, short-rotation woody crops and forestry plantings.

To seize opportunities, it must look beyond “conventional bioenergy feedstocks” – investing heavily in bioenergy crop production on marginal lands, with “short-rotation woody crops can produce twice as much bioenergy per hectare as many conventional bioenergy crops.”

As a result, the IEA supports a massive increase in short-rotation woody bioenergy production from marginal lands, and the switch from conventional bioenergy crops to advanced short-rotation woody crops would greatly assist in meeting future demand for biomass.

In addition to meeting demand, it has a significant carbon upside, “sequestering 190 million tonnes of CO2 by 2050 and reducing Agriculture, Forestry and Other Land Use emissions by 140 million tonnes of CO2 relative to today,” the IEA said in its In Roadmap to Net Zero by 2050 report, also published in October 2021.

Sustainably managed forest plantations established outside of existing forested land, it said, “can increase carbon stocks while at the same time sustainably producing biomass.”

Whilst sustainable marine fuels developed from forest trimmings have produced promising results, the challenge for fuel supply, like structural timbers, centres on the capacity to secure green fuels at a scale and cost that makes them competitive against oil.

At a time when demand for tree-based materials is already stretched, this requires a substantial investment into plantation estates and planting trees in the ground.

With Australia, the US, the UK, and NZ falling behind in meeting their tree-planting targets, the success of global shipping (and aviation) to transition to a zero economy could be made or broken by governmental commitments to planting more trees in the ground.


  • Jason Ross

    Jason Ross, publisher, is a 15-year professional in building and construction, connecting with more than 400 specifiers. A Gottstein Fellowship recipient, he is passionate about growing the market for wood-based information. Jason is Wood Central's in-house emcee and is available for corporate host and MC services.


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