Exclusive Article: VPS Experience with Alternative Fuels

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VPS Experience Alternative Fuels Dr Nick Clague

In this insightful article, authored by Dr. Nick Clague, Head of Sustainable Fuels at Veritas Petroleum Services, sharing insights from the perspective of VPS, drawing upon VPS experience in testing the latest alternative fuels currently in use aboard vessels operating worldwide. Dr. Clague’s expertise sheds light on the critical role of these sustainable energy sources in reducing emissions and steering the industry towards a more environmentally conscious future. Join us as we explore the latest trends, challenges, and opportunities in the world of maritime decarbonization.

Dr. Nick Clague, Head of Sustainable Fuels, VPS


It is widely acknowledged that 3% of global emissions are attributed to the world shipping industry, and there is now a concerted effort across the sector to achieve near-net-zero emissions by 2050. At the recent MEPC 80 conference, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) introduced interim targets, including a 20% reduction in global greenhouse gas emissions compared to 2008 by 2030, with a further goal of 30% reduction by that year, and ultimately striving for a 70% (with a striving goal of 80%) reduction by 2040. Additionally, the EU Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) is set to expand in 2024 to encompass all vessels over 5000 gross tons involved in general cargo or passenger transport, progressively increasing the share of emissions subject to ETS coverage from 40% in 2024 to 100% in 2026. Furthermore, starting in 2026, methane and nitrous oxide emissions will also be incorporated into the EU ETS, and offshore vessels are slated to join the scheme from 2027.

In light of these new regulations, which bring added complexity and costs to emissions reporting for vessels, operators and owners are now intensively exploring strategies to curtail their emissions. Some of these efforts are focused on immediate measures, such as adopting practices like slow steaming, enhancing vessel designs, implementing air lubrication, and reducing sulfur content in fuels. Nevertheless, meeting the net-zero emissions target by 2050 and mitigating the financial burden of emission payments compel the shipping industry to seek additional avenues of decarbonization. These include leveraging digitalization to optimize onboard systems for maximum efficiency and implementing advanced monitoring of stack and exhaust emissions. While significant progress has been made, much work remains to achieve the net-zero emissions goal by 2050.

One of the primary approaches to emissions reduction involves not only decreasing fuel consumption but also exploring alternative fuels capable of further reducing emissions and obviating the need for fossil fuel combustion. As an interim measure, some operators are turning to liquefied natural gas (LNG) as a fuel source and installing dual-fuel LNG engines on their vessels. Although LNG offers a significant emissions reduction up to 23% compared to very low sulfur fuel oil (VLSFO) on a well-to-wake basis, it is still a fossil fuel. LNG-powered vessels also grapple with the issue of methane slip, a concern given that methane is 25 times more effective at trapping heat in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide. Consequently, other vessel operators are exploring alternative fuels like methanol, ammonia, and biofuels, especially in light of methane emissions being incorporated into the EU ETS starting in 2026. These alternative fuels present opportunities for even greater emissions reductions compared to conventional fuels and LNG but come with their own unique challenges.

This article offers insights from the perspective of VPS, drawing upon our experience in testing the latest alternative fuels currently in use aboard vessels operating worldwide.

VPS Experience with New Alternative Fuels

Fatty acid methyl esters (FAME), commonly referred to as biodiesel, have long been utilized in the road transportation sector for cars, vans, and trucks. The composition of FAME varies significantly depending on the feedstocks used in the manufacturing process, resulting in notable distinctions between each batch, supplier, and geographical source. One distinct advantage of FAME is its seamless integration as a replacement for traditional fuels, usable in varying proportions, including up to 100%. For instance, a B30 fuel blend consists of 30% FAME and 70% conventional fuel. Given the structural differences between FAME variants, its performance as a fuel can exhibit considerable variations. Factors such as carbon chain length and unsaturation degree can impact cold flow properties, while unsaturation can also affect oxidation stability and oxygen content. Notably, the oxygen content has implications for energy content, which is inherently lower than that of conventional marine fuels. Consequently, VPS has developed a technique to trace the source of FAME, proving invaluable in supporting our customers. With the implementation of the EU Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) and FAME’s zero CO2 emissions factor, precise measurement of FAME content in fuel becomes advantageous for vessel owners and operators. Although various test methods exist for determining FAME levels in biofuels (including ASTM D7371, ASTM D7963, EN14078, and EN14103), each has its limitations. VPS has introduced a new technique with enhanced precision, repeatability, and reproducibility across the entire range from B0 to B100, allowing vessel stakeholders to accurately calculate emissions allowances.

Due to its partially oxidized nature compared to conventional hydrocarbon-based fuels, FAME is susceptible to bacterial growth, leading to sludge formation and increased acidity. These issues can result in complications such as clogged filters and corrosion. Additionally, FAME’s partial oxidation and the presence of unsaturated esters can significantly reduce its oxidation stability, causing sludge formation, filter clogging, darkening, acidity elevation, microbial growth, and the development of a rancid odor. However, when managed carefully onboard and used in blends with conventional fuel, FAME can offer environmental benefits, particularly from a well-to-wake perspective. Thus far, VPS has analyzed many single samples for individual vessels, with an estimated monthly use of biofuels in the range of 30-40 kilotons per month (VPS estimation), representing only a fraction of the monthly market volume for shipping fuels.

Based on data from VPS PortStats, in 2023, we have already examined over 300 bunker samples containing FAME or FAME derivatives, most of which were sourced from Europe (primarily Rotterdam) and also from the US and Asia (mainly Singapore). However, our testing indicates that FAME-containing fuels are currently under trial and subject to rigorous performance scrutiny, as expected. This scrutiny extends from the vessel crew and technical teams to top-level management within ship owners and operators, all of whom have made decarbonization a top priority. Consequently, suppliers are exercising caution in providing only high-quality products. The question arises whether this level of diligence will persist if biofuels were to become a predominant marine fuel option.

To further underscore the tentative nature of FAME biofuels in the maritime sector, it’s worth noting that among the over 300 bunker samples tested in 2023, only around 10% of vessels used biofuel more than twice. Based on the stem sizes taken, it appears that vessels typically carry this fuel for approximately one week before consumption, reinforcing the notion that FAME biofuels are currently undergoing extensive trials.

Perhaps the most significant deterrent to the widespread adoption of FAME in marine fuel is its price, which can be up to twice as high as that of very low sulfur fuel oil (VLSFO). However, with the introduction of the EU Emissions Trading Scheme in 2024, the cost differential may be offset by the savings resulting from using FAME to increase the zero CO2 emissions allowance.

Additionally, we have observed other unconventional sources considered as fuel options. Hydrogenated vegetable oils (HVO), derived from waste cooking oils, undergo extensive processing and hydrogenation to eliminate unsaturation and oxygen-containing molecules, such as esters. HVO, often referred to as renewable diesel, behaves similarly to conventional diesel. When comparing HVO with FAME, HVO boasts higher energy content, robust oxidation stability, superior cold-flow properties, and little to no microbial growth. This is primarily because hydrogenation removes any partial oxidation present in FAME. Nevertheless, like FAME, HVO commands a higher price than traditional marine fuels of similar viscosity, potentially limiting its adoption as a marine fuel.

Cashew nut shell liquid (CNSL) and tire pyrolysis oil (TPO) have also been proposed as marine fuels, either as pure “B100” or in blends. CNSL is highly acidic and comprises significantly different molecules than FAME, characterized by their phenolic nature. While these phenolic molecules find various applications outside the marine industry, their potential as a fuel hinges on considerations of polymerization under specific conditions of heat and prolonged storage. However, in blends with conventional fuels, CNSL may prove suitable, pending further testing. TPO represents a relatively new technology requiring extensive testing to establish its suitability as a marine fuel.

Methanol is emerging as a notable focal point within the industry. Distinguished by its nearly uniform molecular composition, methanol is readily available and can be sourced from environmentally accepted materials. It contains no sulfur, significantly reducing sulfur oxide (SOx) emissions to minimal levels, and it can also achieve up to an 80% reduction in nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions compared to conventional marine fuels. Nevertheless, like other alternative fuels, the price remains a consideration, especially as methanol possesses roughly two-thirds the energy density of traditional fuels. Additionally, methanol is classified as dangerous goods and has a low flash point, necessitating heightened safety measures during handling and transport.

VPS was recently involved in the first-ever methanol bunkering in Singapore, conducting Bunker Quantity Surveys (BQS) and Fuel Quality Testing (FQT). The successful bunkering operation was followed by the testing of fuel samples, which closely matched the fuel quality supplied to the ship from the bunker vessel through a shore tank. While there are currently no industry specifications for methanol as a fuel, such standards are under development. IMPCA (International Methanol Producers and Consumers Association) has provided a benchmark specification for methanol as a marine fuel as the industry gains more experience. Subsequently, VPS participated in the bunker surveying of the same vessel in Port Said and Rotterdam as it journeyed to its final destination in Denmark. VPS also conducted the analysis of the methanol fuel on all three occasions.

Anticipated over the next few years is a substantial increase in the number of vessels transitioning to methanol as a primary fuel source. Furthermore, numerous new plants dedicated to bio-methanol production are either planned or currently under construction to support the marine industry’s transition. As of August 2023, the vessel order book reveals 161 vessels on order, constituting approximately 7.6% of all vessels on order. This represents a notable increase from the 95 vessels on order recorded in July 2023.


The maritime industry is diligently working to reduce emissions in alignment with the International Maritime Organization’s (IMO) target of achieving net-zero emissions around 2050. In recent years, a plethora of measures has been embraced to enhance fuel efficiency and mitigate emissions, encompassing practices such as slow steaming, vessel design enhancements, and air lubrication. However, these methods still rely on fossil fuels. Therefore, the industry’s next pivotal step is the widespread adoption of alternative fuels with significantly reduced or even zero carbon footprints. This transition has commenced with the integration of alternative fuels like methanol in many new vessel builds and some retrofitting endeavors with dual-fuel engines that enable the use of such alternatives.

Looking ahead, the industry is poised to explore a spectrum of alternative fuels, with active research underway on the viability of ammonia as a zero-carbon fuel and even the consideration of nuclear energy as a potential power source for vessels.

VPS is at the forefront of these developments, not only conducting extensive testing of these novel alternative fuels but also collaborating with vessel owners and operators to optimize their efficiency through the Maress technology and continuously monitor emissions with their unique Emsys system. This holistic approach provides a comprehensive understanding of the energy dynamics on vessels, encompassing energy input through fuel, monitoring of energy utilization, and quantification of emissions from the vessel. In essence, this system elucidates how and where all the energy from the fuel is employed on the vessel.

With the forthcoming expansion of the EU Emissions Trading Scheme in 2024 and the imperative to curtail emissions in the shipping industry, VPS stands as a leader in the analysis of new alternative fuels. Our aim is to support our customers in achieving their emission reduction targets while ensuring that these fuels are suitable for their intended purposes. Combined with our innovative digital technologies for optimized vessel operations and continuous exhaust emissions monitoring, VPS is uniquely positioned to offer a wide array of maritime decarbonization services to the global fleet, contributing to a more sustainable and environmentally responsible maritime industry.

Source Veritas Petroleum Services VPS