Sustainable Biofuels for Low-Carbon Maritime Transportation

Research output: NRELPresentation


The marine shipping sector heavily depends on fossil fuels and is one of the largest petroleum fuel consumers [1,2]. The annual global marine fuel consumption was estimated to be around 400 million metric tons in 2019 (2.5 billion barrels). Moreover, ocean shipping is one of the most significant contributors to sulfur oxides, nitrogen oxides, and particulate matter emissions. Global shipping contributes 13% of human-caused sulfur emissions and 2.6% of anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions. As a major source of pollutant emissions, the marine industry faces several challenges related to emission regulations. The International Maritime Organization (IMO) has established a framework for reducing the carbon intensity of shipping: 40% reduction relative to 2008 levels by 2030 and 70% reduction by 2050. As the aviation sector, the maritime shipping sector is difficult to decarbonize through electrification. Biofuels offer the best opportunities for decarbonizing marine shipping in the near and medium-term. Advanced biofuels such as pyrolysis bio-oil offer the low-cost potential for meeting carbon reduction goals. For instance, the pyrolysis bio-oil exhibited promising marginal CO2 abatement costs at less than $100/tonne CO2-equivalent at a heavy fuel oil price greater than $1.10/gal [1]. As a potential biofuel option for low-carbon maritime shipping, this presentation focuses on a comparative techno-economic analysis (TEA) of bio-oils produced via a fast pyrolysis-based conversion pathway. The pathway converts a 50/50 blend of forest residues and clean pine to bio-oil via three process options: fast pyrolysis without vapor upgrading, and fast pyrolysis with vapor phase upgrading over ZSM-5 zeolite catalyst and Pt/TiO2 catalyst. The process configuration and operation variation led to different capital and operating costs, as well as the resulting raw bio-oil’s yield and quality, e.g., the water content, total acid number, and carboxylic acid number. The study also determined the minimum upgrading of bio-oils required to enable blending with very low sulfur fuel oil (VLSFO), with the associated costs reflected in TEA. This study shows that bio-oil could be a cost-effective fuel option for decarbonizing maritime shipping. Further research is required with respect to biofuel blending properties, such as compatibility with existing fuel system infrastructure and suitable engine performance.
Original languageAmerican English
Number of pages15
StatePublished - 2022

Publication series

NamePresented at the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE) Annual Meeting, 13-18 November 2022, Phoenix, Arizona

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/PR-5100-84535


  • decarbonization
  • heavy fuel oil
  • marine biofuels
  • sustainability
  • techno-economic analysis


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