GCMD, NYK launch new project to test continuous use of biofuels

The Global Center for Maritime Decarbonization (GCMD) has teamed up with Japanese shipping major NYK Line to launch Project LOTUS aimed at testing the long-term impact of continuous use of biofuels on vessel operations.


As informed, the six-month project will trial the continuous use of a biofuels blend comprising of 24% fatty acid methyl esters (FAME) and very low sulfur fuel oil (VLSFO) onboard a short-sea vehicle carrier that will call at multiple ports.

The use of a vessel plying short-sea routes will allow regular access to fuels stored onboard for sampling and testing during frequent port calls.

Project LOTUS aims to address this knowledge gap by establishing industry guidelines for monitoring engine and equipment performance when using biofuels.

Furthermore, this pilot will evaluate the total cost of ownership of using biofuels, covering the cost of fuel and additional maintenance costs associated with its use.

Additionally, it will identify potential challenges, e.g., corrosion of engine systems and valve failures, related to continuous biofuel use, and recommend mitigation strategies.

The quantitative findings from Project LOTUS will offer an opportunity to contribute complementary real-world data to the upcoming revision of ISO 8217:2024, which includes the specification of standards for a wider range of FAME-based blends up to B100.

Moreover, these learnings will be crucial for shipowners and operators who are considering biofuel use to meet vessel compliance with regulations, like Carbon Intensity Indicator (CII) and the FuelEU Maritime Standards.

FAME, a readily available biofuel derived from second-generation feedstocks, like used cooking oil and palm oil mill effluent, presents a promising fuel alternative for immediate GHG emissions reduction in the shipping industry. While its compatibility with existing engines and bunkering infrastructure makes it an attractive “drop-in” green fuel, concerns about the impact of its extended use on vessel operations remain.

Unlike conventional marine fuels, one of the challenges with FAME is that it can be more susceptible to chemical degradation and microbial growth, the by-products of which can corrode shipboard engine systems and/ or clog fuel delivery systems, according to the partners.

As a preventative measure, engine original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) and classification societies have thus recommended increasing the frequency of maintenance when using biofuels and its blends compared to using conventional marine fuels.

Despite a promising surge in biofuel bunkering volumes at key hubs, like Singapore and Rotterdam, with sales rising from negligible levels in 2020 to 1 million MT in 2023, their use still only represents 1.7% of total bunker sales at these hubs.

With stricter regulations in force, the use of biofuels in shipping is likely to rise significantly in the coming years. To fully understand the opportunity FAME presents to the shipping sector, a thorough investigation of the impact on its long-term use and an evaluation of the total cost of adoption is critical.

The past decade has seen trials of various biofuels onboard vessels; these have primarily focused on their combustion characteristics and the extent of emissions abatement. Data on the impact of long-term and continuous use of biofuels on engine performance and fuel delivery system operations remain limited.

In January this year, NYK broke ground on a test engine facility, aimed at evaluating the safety and practical application of biofuels for maritime use. The NYK Group plans to complete the installation of the test engine by June. Following this, an intensive three-year analysis will ensue, focusing on conducting combustion tests to scrutinize the viability of biofuels.

Related Article

At the end of 2023, NYK announced its plans to launch full-scale trials of the long-term use of biofuels in navigating its existing heavy oil-fired vessels. NYK has already conducted several biofuel trials over the past couple of years.