December 12, 2011

Container Line and US Navy Cooperate on Biofuel from Algae Tests

Maersk Searches for Cleaner Options

Shipping News Feature

DENMARK – US – WORLDWIDE –Never the one to do things by halves Maersk Line, as the largest shipping company in the world, is leading the fight for shipping to clean up its act. This week the company posed the question ‘Can a ship sail on algae power’ and gave the current details for the experiment it is currently undertaking together with the US Navy to establish if bio fuels are a credible source of power for large marine diesel engines using one of the company’s 6,700 TEU container ships, the 89,000 tonne Maersk Kalmar, as a test bed.

As we illustrated last month algae based fuel is already being used to power commercial aircraft but for anyone who thinks these trials to be a gimmick Maersk say that for their fleet of more than 1,300 vessels, biofuels pose a host of potential advantages. The U.S. Navy, which is the main sponsor of the test and also supplying the 30 tonnes of algae fuel, intends to source 50 percent of its energy from alternative fuel types by 2020 as a part of its ‘Great Green Fleet’ initiative. For Maersk Line, testing of biofuels is part of a wider strategy for reducing it’s the CO2 emissions. By 2020, it is Maersk Line’s target to have reduced its CO2 emissions by 25% per container moved, compared to 2007, a target it believes will be reached by means of efficiency gains.

Maersk Kalmar has two key attributes that make it a suitable vessel for biofuel testing. The 300 meter-long container ship has a dedicated auxiliary test engine, which reduces the risks of testing, and its fuels system has special biofuel blending equipment and separate tanks, plus of course it is now thirteen years old. The US Secretary of the Navy, Ray Mabus, visited Maersk headquarters in Copenhagen last year and was sufficiently impressed by the company’s efforts conserve energy that he authorised this, the first collaboration between Maersk and the U.S. Navy’s Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA).

During its month-long, 6,500 nautical mile voyage from Bremerhaven, Germany to Pipavav, India along its normal route the ship will use up the 30 tonnes of algae based fuel with a team of engineers from Maersk Maritime Technology, Maersk Line, Limited (the company’s US operation) and Maersk Line onboard running the project and testing blends ranging from 7% to 100%. The team is also analyzing emissions data on nitrogen oxides, sulphur oxides, CO2 and particulate matter from the fuel use, along with effects on power efficiency and engine wear and tear.

Exciting as it sounds Maersk Kalmar isn’t actually sailing on algae power as yet; the energy produced will only power the ship’s electronics, but the tests are a precursor to full sea trials if successful. Maersk Maritime Technology, the group’s centre of excellence for ship technologies is of course intimately involved and the company also has a website devoted to illustrating its sustainability. David Anderson, Maersk Line, Limited’s technical representative for the algae project commented:

“We expect to identify an optimal blend of distillate and biofuel that will meet the more stringent requirements of the International Maritime Organization’s forthcoming emissions regulations. The test is part of a journey to spur innovation in fuel R&D, diversify the fuel supply and improve environmental performance. It is a long-term goal Maersk shares with the Navy.”

Many environmentalists are concerned that the use of plant matter to produce fuel can have a negative impact on rural communities dependent on the types of plants produced and their effect on the local economy but the use of algae based biofuel does not seem to attract the same level of criticism. Added to this, unlike road haulage which can utilise electrical and hybrid technologies, ocean freight requires the power that only traditional engines or those powered by nuclear technology can currently provide.

Original post available here.

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