Finding a climate and environment friendly alternative to fossil fuels in shipping in the Arctic is turning out to be complex, a pioneering study on the topic shows. The new scientific article also contains evidence that blends of advanced biofuels with marine gas oil currently in use, could lessen the climate change and environmental footprint of the industry.
Bio4Energy researchers have been going full steam ahead with an encompassing project, granted in spring, with new results discussing the environmental and climate change impacts of introducing either biodiesel or bioethanol made from waste from pulp and paper industry in Sweden, as fuel in maritime shipping in the Arctic region.
Both fuels are so-called drop-in alternatives to fossil fuels, meaning that they can be used in current engines or in blends with fossil fuel equivalents, without the need for modification of the existing infrastructure. Both are already in use in the automotive industry, but for road transportation.
“It looks like the best option is to use blended fuels. We are trying to optimise it, to find the preferable blend”, said Dalia Abdelfattah, project leader and a Bio4Energy system analysis researcher at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences.
The research team have been performing life-cycle assessment studies which show a complex picture of the studied thermochemical routes to bioethanol and to biodiesel, respectively, rendering considerable greenhouse gas emission reductions, were either to replace the heavy fuel oil or marine gas oil in use.
Bioethanol gave the lowest climate change potential, which is the term used to signify avoidance of greenhouse gas emission. However, using bioethanol alone potentially increased pollution of other kinds, such as toxicity affecting humans, formation of particulate matter and acidification of water and soils.
The biodiesel alternative, made from tall oil, also reduced the climate change potential—as well as a number of other environmental impacts (photochemical ozone formation, acidification potential and eutrophication, among others)—but still scored high on human toxicity potential due to the generation of fly ash at production.
This latter “impact can be mitigated with proper handling of fly ash” at the production site, the researchers’ new article says. Already today, some industries capture and re-use such fly ash in road construction materials, according to the article.
The three-year project enabled by the Swedish national funder Formas also paves the way for cost-benefit analyses to be performed and social impacts to be studied. The scientists will be spending at least the rest of this year assessing those aspects. The results will be made directly available to industry, possibly via a biofuel producer that is expected to join the project in the coming months.
Here is the reference to the Bio4Energy scientists' new article: Yacout Abdelfattah DMM, Tysklind M, Upadhyayula VKK. 2021. Assessment of forest-based biofuels for Arctic marine shipping. Resources, Conservation and Recycling 174,105763. November