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Maersk launches shipping biofuel experiment

Shipping giant Maersk Line is testing the performance of algae-based biofuels as a means of cutting emissions from a vessel en route from northern Europe to India.

Blends of between seven and 100 per cent biofuels will be used in the auxiliary test engine of the Maersk Kalmar, a 300m container ship, during its month-long, 6,500 nautical mile voyage.

During the journey, Maersk expects the Kalmar to use up to 30 tonnes of biofuel while onboard engineers analyse emissions data on nitrogen oxides), sulphur oxides, CO2 and particulate matter, along with effects on power efficiency and engine wear and tear.

The tests are scheduled to conclude this month with results following soon after.

Maersk said it expects to identify an optimal blend of distillate and biofuel that will meet the International Maritime Organisation’s forthcoming emissions regulations.

The project is the first collaboration between Maersk and the US Navy’s Naval Sea Systems Command, a partnership that sprung up after Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus visited Maersk’s headquarters in Copenhagen in October last year.

While biofuels have been increasingly adopted by airlines as a method of reducing emissions and avoiding oil price volatility, shipping has not embraced the technology to the same extent.

Under a deal agreed at the IMO earlier this year, shipping companies must consider methods to improve the fuel efficiency of vessels, such as slower speeds, while new vessels will have to meet rising minimum efficiency standards from 2015.

Jacob Sterling, head of climate and environment at Maersk Line, said biofuels could have a major role to play to help shipping meet these future targets.

“The shipping industry needs to dramatically reduce greenhouse gas intensity in the coming decades,” he said. “In the short term, we can gain a lot by focusing on improving fuel efficiency. In the longer term, we would like to see sustainable biofuels become a commercially available, low-carbon fuel.”

Campaigners argue that biofuels can compete with land for crops, force up food prices, and drive deforestation - a problem that will only get worse if demand increases.

However, advocates of biofuels argue that second-generation technologies such as algae-derived biofuels could be produced in large quantities without affecting land use.

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