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Alternative Fuels

Dr. Nicholas Clague shares VPS’ experience with alternative bunker fuels

Recently appointed as the Head of Sustainable Fuels, Clague provides an insight on VPS’ experience of testing the latest alternative fuels that are in use aboard vessels operating around the world.





Dr. Nicholas Clague, who was recently appointed as the Head of Sustainable Fuels of marine fuels testing company VPS, provides an insight on the firm’s experience of testing the latest alternative fuels that are in use aboard vessels operating around the world:


It is well reported that 3% of global emissions are attributed to world shipping and the entire industry is now on a drive to reduce emissions to net zero close to, or by 2050. At the recent MEPC 80 conference the IMO introduced additional interim checkpoints of 20% global greenhouse gas emissions reductions compared to 2008 but striving for 30% by 2030 with a 70% (striving for 80%) reduction by 2040. On top of this the EU ETS scheme will be expanded in 2024 to include all vessels over 5000 GT transporting general cargo or passengers with the share of emissions subject to the ETS being increased from 40% in 2024 to 70% in 2025 and 100% in 2026. In addition, methane and nitrous oxide emissions will be added to the EU ETS from 2026. Offshore vessels will also be added to the scheme from 2027.

With all of these new requirements (and additional costs and complexity) for reporting emissions from vessels, operators and owners are now looking very closely at how to reduce their emissions. Some of this has been achieved from what can be done ‘today’ such as slow steaming, improving vessel design, air lubrication and reducing sulphur in fuels.

However, to meet the requirements of net -zero by 2050 and reduce the cost of paying for emissions the shipping industry is also looking at other means of decarbonisation including the use of digitalisation of onboard systems for optimal efficiency and advanced monitoring of stack/exhaust emissions. Although a lot has been done so far there is still a lot more to be done if shipping is to achieve net-zero by 2050.

One of the main ways to reduce emissions is not only to burn less fuel but to also look at alternative fuels that can help further reduce emissions and remove the need to burn fossil fuels. As an interim step some operators are looking at LNG as a fuel and installing dual fuel LNG engines on vessels.

Although LNG significantly reduces emissions – up to 23% - compared to VLSFO on a well to wake basis it is still a fossil fuel. LNG vessels also have the issue of methane slip and with methane being 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide at trapping heat in the atmosphere, other vessel operators are looking to other alternative fuels such as methanol, ammonia and bio-fuels, especially with methane emissions becoming part of the EU ETS in 2026. These fuels can provide additional emissions savings compared to conventional fuels and LNG, but also offer their own challenges.

This article provides an insight from the VPS perspective based on our experience of testing the latest alternative fuels that are in use today aboard vessels operating around the world.

VPS Experience with new Alternative Fuels

FAME (fatty acid methyl esters) or more commonly referred to as biodiesel, has been used within the road transportation sector for cars, vans and trucks for many years. The composition of FAME is dependent on the feedstocks used in the manufacturing process and can vary greatly between each batch, between each supplier and where it is purchased around the world. FAME has one big advantage in that it is a ‘drop-in’ replacement for traditional fuels and can be used at varying amounts up to 100%. For example, a B30 fuel will be a blend of 30% FAME and 70% conventional fuel.

Due to the changes in chemical structure between each FAME, its performance as a fuel can vary greatly too. Carbon chain length and degree of unsaturation can influence the cold flow properties, with the degree of unsaturation also influencing oxidation stability and oxygen content. The level of oxygen content has an influence on the energy content, which is already lower than for conventional marine fuels. As a result, VPS were able to develop a technique to fingerprint the FAME source which has proven to be a great addition to the testing used to support our customers. With the introduction of the EU ETS and with 

FAME having a zero CO2 emissions factor, being able to accurately measure FAME content in fuel will be an advantage to vessel owners and operators. Several test methods already exist for determining the level of FAME in biofuels (including ASTM D7371, ASTM D7963, EN14078 and EN14103) but all have their limitations. VPS have developed a new technique which has higher precision, repeatability and reproducibility over the whole range from B0 to B100, enabling vessel owners and operators to obtain the correct emissions allowances.

FAME, due to its partially oxidised nature compared to conventional hydrocarbon-based fuels is also susceptible to bacterial growth which can lead to sludge and increased acidity, which can then lead to other problems such as blocked filters and corrosion. Again, due to it partial oxidation and some of the esters in the fuel being unsaturated, FAME can have significantly reduced oxidation stability which can cause sludge, filter blocking, darkening, acidity increase, microbial growth and rancidity which will be noticed by a rancid odour.

All that said, FAME does provide an environmental benefit from a well to wake perspective and with careful management onboard should cause no issues in its use, especially in blends with conventional fuel. So far, many of the samples tested by VPS have been single samples for single vessels with an estimated in-use total of biofuel used so far in the region of 30-40KT/month (VPS estimation) which is just a small fraction of the monthly market volume for shipping fuels. Based on data from VPS PortStats, so far in in 2023 we have tested over 300 FAME or FAME- containing bunker samples, the most of which have been available in Europe (mainly Rotterdam), but also from the US and Asia (mainly Singapore). However, based on this testing so far, we are safe to assume that FAME containing fuels are on trial and there is high scrutiny on its performance in these trials as we would expect.

This is from both crew and technical level, where in extreme cases engine components are being inspected and merited/demerited after the trial, looking for any signs of issues. This is being done at great expense to the vessel operators. Further, the top management of ship owners and operators is involved with decarbonisation high on their agendas too. This naturally results in suppliers being cautious about what is being supplied with only top quality products being offered. Will this level of diligence be maintained if biofuels were to become a main marine fuel?

To support this, of the over 300 “bunker” samples tested in 2023, only 30 vessels (approx. 10%) took biofuel more than twice. Typically, from the stem sizes taken it appears the vessel will only have this fuel onboard for around 1 week before it is consumed, further suggesting FAME biofuels are currently on trial.

Probably the biggest factor holding back the adoption of FAME into marine fuel is the price which can be as much as twice the price of VLSFO but with the introduction of the EU ETS in 2024 this cost will be off-set by the savings obtained by using FAME to increase the zero CO2 emissions allowance.

We have also seen other sources of material being used as options for fuel. HVO or hydrogenated vegetable oils is derived from waste oils from cooking and is highly processed and hydrogenated to remove any unsaturation and oxygen containing molecules like esters. As such HVO is often referred to as renewable diesel and performs in a similar way to diesel. When comparing HVO with FAME we see higher energy content, good oxidation stability, superior cold-flow properties and little or no microbial growth. This is due to the fact the HVO is hydrogenated and any partial oxidation (as found with FAME) has been removed during the hydrogenation progress. Again, as with FAME, HVO has a higher price than tradition marine fuels of similar viscosity which could restrict its usage as a marine fuel.

Cashew nut shell liquid (CNSL) and tyre pyrolysis oil (TPO) have also been suggested as marine fuels either as a ‘B100’ or in blends. CNSL is highly acidic and contains very different molecules compared to FAME which are phenolic in nature. These phenolic molecules have many uses outside the marine industry but as a fuel they could be susceptible to polymerisation under the right conditions of heat and potential prolonged storage. However, in blends with traditional fuels CNSL could be suitable as a fuel but more testing is needed to confirm its suitability. TPO is a relatively new technology and further testing is needed to prove its suitability as a marine fuel.

One fuel that is gaining a lot of attention is methanol. Unlike other fuels, it is almost entirely made up of a single molecule. It is readily available and can be manufactured from environmentally accepted sources. It also contains no sulphur and so significantly improves SOx emissions to very low levels. NOx emissions can also be reduced by up to 80% compared to conventional marine fuels. As with other alternative fuels price is a consideration for methanol especially as it has a round 2/3 the energy density of traditional fuels. Methanol is also classed as dangerous goods and has a low flash point so increased safety measures are needed when handling and shipping methanol.

VPS were recently involved in the very first bunkering of methanol in Singapore both for Bunker Quantity surveys (BQS) and Fuel Quality Testing (FQT). Following the successful bunkering operation, the fuel samples were tested and were a close match with the fuel quality that was supplied to the ship from the bunker vessel via a shore tank. Currently there are no industry specifications for the use of methanol as a fuel, but these are under development. There is a specification from IMPCA (International Methanol Producers and Consumers Association) which is being used as the benchmark specification for methanol as a marine fuel as the industry gains experience. Subsequently, VPS were involved with the bunker surveying of the same vessel in Port Said and Rotterdam as it sailed to its final destination in Denmark. VPS also undertook the analysis of the methanol fuel on all 3 occasions.

Over the next few years the number of vessels being fuelled by methanol is due to increase significantly and several new plants for producing bio-methanol are planned or under construction in support of the marine industry. Currently the vessel order book as of August 2023 shows 161 vessels on order which is about 7.6% of all vessels on order. This is up from 95 vessels on order in July 2023.


The maritime industry is currently working to reduce emissions to meet the IMO target of net-zero on or around 2050. There have been lots of measures adopted over the last few years to improve fuel efficiency and reduce emissions. This has included slow steaming, vessel design, air lubrication etc. However, all of these methods still involve the use of fossil fuels. So, the next step is to start using alternative fuels with significantly reduced or even zero carbon footprints. This has started with many new builds and some retrofits on vessels with dual fuel engines allowing the use of alternative fuels such as methanol.

In the future we will also start to see other fuels being used and there is a lot of current research ongoing around the use of ammonia as a zero-carbon fuel and also some consideration around the use of nuclear energy to power vessels.

VPS are also leading the way with the testing of these new alternatives fuels but are also working with vessel owners and operators to maximise their efficiency via their Maress technology and then also continuous emissions monitoring through their unique Emsys system. This gives an overall picture of energy-in via the fuel, monitoring of energy use and then quantifying the emissions from the vessel. In effect this shows how and where all the energy from the fuel has been used on the vessel.

With the EU ETS expansion in 2024 and the need to reduce emissions in shipping, VPS are leading the way in the analysis of new alternative fuels to support our customers in assisting them in meeting their emission reduction targets whilst making sure these fuels are fit for purpose. Coupled with our new and innovative digital technologies for optimised vessel operations and continuous exhaust emissions monitoring, VPS are perfectly positioned to provide a wide range of maritime decarbonisation services to the global fleet.

Related: VPS appoints Dr. Nicholas Clague as new Head of Sustainable Fuels
Related: VPS completes quantity survey on Singapore’s first methanol bunkering op
RelatedSingapore bunkering sector enters milestone with first methanol marine refuelling op

Photo credit: VPS
Published: 12 September, 2023

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VPS conducts assessment on first SIMOPS methanol bunkering op in Singapore

Firm was appointed by OCI Methanol Europe to conduct a quantity and quality assessment of a methanol bunker fuel delivery to “Eco Maestro” in Singapore.





VPS conducts assessment on first SIMOPS methanol bunkering op in Singapore

Marine fuels testing company VPS on Tuesday (28 May) said it was appointed by OCI Methanol Europe, part of the OCI Global Group, to conduct a quantity and quality assessment of a methanol fuel delivery to Eco Maestro in Singapore.

Captain Rahul Choudhuri, President Strategic Partnerships, VPS, said VPS survey experts Rafael Theseira and Muhd Nazmi Abdul Rahim were at hand during the methanol bunkering to ensure the 300 metric tonnes of methanol transfer was carried out smoothly, having been involved in the first methanol bunkering a year ago. 

Manifold Times recently reported X-Press Feeders, Global Energy Trading Pte Ltd (GET), and PSA Singapore (PSA) successfully completing the first simultaneous methanol bunkering and cargo operation (SIMOPS) in Singapore.

A X-Press Feeder container vessel, Eco Maestro, on its maiden voyage from Asia to Europe was successfully refuelled with close to 300 mt of bio-methanol by GET, a MPA licensed bunker supplier, using MT KARA

The ISCC-certified bio-methanol used for the SIMOPS was produced by green methanol producer OCI Global and supplied via GET, a ISCC-certified supplier.

Captain Choudhuri said the role of the marine, petroleum or bunker surveyor has evolved over the years in shipping and maritime affairs, but the principles have not - and that is to provide independent assessment of the quality and quantity of the product transfer. 

“This may seem obvious but this quality and quantity control is crucial to avoid commercial discrepancies, shortages or fraud,” he said.

“Safety training is critical and we have been on top of this having completed the required MPA fire-fighting course and the IBIA Methanol training course. We will work more with the Singapore Maritime Academy for trainings in future,” he added.

In August last year, Singapore-headquartered independent common carrier X-Press Feeders launched its first ever dual-fuel vessel Eco Maestro in China.

Manifold Times previously reported VPS stating it was the first company to complete a methanol bunker quantity survey (BQS) operation in Singapore on 27 July last year.

VPS was appointed by Maersk and Hong Lam Marine Pte Ltd, to undertake the very first bunker quantity survey (BQS) of a methanol fuel delivery, supplied by Hong Lam to the Maersk vessel on its maiden voyage to Europe. 

Related: First SIMOPS methanol bunkering operation completed in Singapore
Related: VPS completes quantity survey on Singapore’s first methanol bunkering op
Related: Singapore bunkering sector enters milestone with first methanol marine refuelling op
Related: X-Press Feeders launches its first methanol dual-fuel vessel “Eco Maestro” in China


Photo credit: VPS
Published: 29 May 2024

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LNG Bunkering

Gasum and Equinor ink continuation of long-term LNG bunkering agreement

Agreement builds on the success of the previous contract Gasum has had with Equinor; Gasum’s bunker vessels “Coralius”, “Kairos” and “Coral Energy” will be used for the bunkering operations.





Gasum and Equinor ink continuation of long-term LNG bunkering agreement

Nordic liquefied natural gas (LNG) bunker supplier Gasum on Tuesday (28 May) said it signed a long-term contract with Norway-based global energy company Equinor whereby Gasum continues to supply LNG to Equinor’s dual-fuel chartered fleet of vessels. 

The agreement builds on the success of the previous contract Gasum has had with Equinor. Gasum’s bunker vessels Coralius, Kairos and Coral Energy will be used for the bunkering operations.

The agreement also includes additional support services such as cooling down and gassing up, which has also been a part of Gasum’s previous collaboration with Equinor. 

Gasum has organised three separate LNG cool down operations for Equinor in Skagen so far this year.

Both Gasum and Equinor have committed to sustainability goals to enable a cleaner energy future. Equinor’s ambition is to become a net-zero emissions energy company by 2050.

Using LNG in maritime transport means complete removal of sulfur oxides (SOx) and particles, and reduction of nitrogen oxides (NOx) emissions of up to 85 percent as well as a reduction in CO2 emissions by at least 20%. LNG is interchangeable with liquefied biogas (LBG/bio-LNG), which reduces carbon dioxide emissions by 90% compared to conventional fuel such as marine gasoil (MGO).

With LNG and bio-LNG the maritime industry can reduce emissions already today, instead of waiting for future solutions. Gasum’s strategic goal is to bring yearly seven terawatt hours (7 TWh) of renewable gas to market by 2027. Achieving this goal would mean combined carbon dioxide reduction of 1.8 million tons per year for Gasum’s customers.

Related: Equinor Energy AS extends LNG bunkering agreement with Gasum
Related: Gasum expands LNG bunkering business to ARA region through partnership with Equinor


Photo credit: Gasum
Published: 29 May 2024

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Consortium inks MoU for facility in Egypt to produce green methanol bunker fuel

AD Ports Group, Transmar and Orascom Construction will develop a green methanol storage and export facility, which will provide bunkering solutions for mainliners who have ordered green methanol powered vessels.





Consortium inks MoU for facility in Egypt to produce green methanol bunker fuel

AD Ports Group, a facilitator of global trade, logistics and industry on Tuesday (28 May) said it signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with container shipping line and terminal operator Transmar and global engineering and construction contractor Orascom Construction for the development of a green methanol storage and export facility. 

AD Ports Group said the facility will aim to supply low-carbon fuel for maritime transport, presenting an opportunity to establish clean alternative energy storage solutions globally.

Green methanol is a synthetic fuel produced renewably and without polluting emissions, and can be produced from green hydrogen. This chemical compound can be used as a low-carbon liquid fuel and is a promising alternative to fossil fuels in areas where decarbonisation is a major challenge.  

Aside from the maritime industry, green methanol can help decarbonise other hard-to-abate industries, including chemical and plastics. 

“The addition of a facility in this area will provide bunkering solutions for those mainliners who have ordered green methanol powered vessels and is aligned with AD Ports Group’s overall decarbonisation strategy and expansion into clean energy liquid bulk storage,” the Group added.

Captain Ammar Mubarak Al Shaiba, CEO – Maritime & Shipping Cluster, AD Ports Group, said: "By signing this MoU with Orascom Construction who have vast international experience in bulk liquid terminals for Methanol storage, and Transmar, who have decades of expertise in this region and within terminal operations, AD Ports Group and its subsidiaries are taking a significant step towards the sustainable future of energy.”

“This initiative not only aligns with the UAE's decarbonisation goals but also accelerates the energy transition in shipping, positioning us at the forefront of the green hydrogen revolution and enabling us to contribute to global environmental stewardship and economic diversification."


Photo credit: AD Ports Group
Published: 29 May 2024

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