Biofuel Options for Marine Applications: Technoeconomic and Life-Cycle Analyses

Eric Tan, Troy Hawkins, Uisung Lee, Ling Tao, Pimphan Meyer, Michael Wang, Tom Thompson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

43 Scopus Citations


This study performed technoeconomic and life-cycle analyses to assess the economic feasibility and emission benefits and tradeoffs of various biofuel production pathways as an alternative to conventional marine fuels. We analyzed production pathways for (1) Fischer-Tropsch diesel from biomass and cofeeding biomass with natural gas or coal, (2) renewable diesel via hydroprocessed esters and fatty acids from yellow grease and cofeeding yellow grease with heavy oil, and (3) bio-oil via fast pyrolysis of low-ash woody feedstock. We also developed a new version of the Greenhouse gases, Regulated Emissions, and Energy use in Transportation (GREET) marine fuel module for the estimation of life-cycle greenhouse gas (GHG) and criteria air pollutant (CAP) emissions of conventional and biobased marine fuels. The alternative fuels considered have a minimum fuel selling price between 2.36 and 4.58 $/heavy fuel oil gallon equivalent (HFOGE), and all exhibit improved life-cycle GHG emissions compared to heavy fuel oil (HFO), with reductions ranging from 40 to 93%. The alternative fuels also exhibit reductions in sulfur oxides and particulate matter emissions. Additionally, when compared with marine gas oil and liquified natural gas, they perform favorably across most emission categories except for cases where carbon and sulfur emissions are increased by the cofed fossil feedstocks. The pyrolysis bio-oil offers the most promising marginal CO2 abatement cost at less than $100/tonne CO2e for HFO prices >$1.09/HFOGE followed by Fischer-Tropsch diesel from biomass and natural gas pathways, which fall below $100/tonne CO2e for HFO prices >$2.25/HFOGE. Pathways that cofeed fossil feedstocks with biomass do not perform as well for marginal CO2 abatement cost, particularly at low HFO prices. This study indicates that biofuels could be a cost-effective means of reducing GHG, sulfur oxide, and particulate matter emissions from the maritime shipping industry and that cofeeding biomass with natural gas could be a practical approach to smooth a transition to biofuels by reducing alternative fuel costs while still lowering GHG emissions, although marginal CO2 abatement costs are less favorable for the fossil cofeed pathways.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)7561-7570
Number of pages10
JournalEnvironmental Science and Technology
Issue number11
StatePublished - 1 Jun 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 American Chemical Society.

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/JA-5100-76829


  • biofuels
  • decarbonization
  • heavy fuel oil
  • life-cycle assessment
  • low-sulfur marine fuels
  • sustainability
  • technoeconomic analysis


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