A PROJECT to assess the impact of long-term and continuous use of biofuels on engine performance and fuel delivery system operations has been launched by the Global Centre for Maritime Decarbonisation and NYK Line.

Project LOTUS (long-term impact of continuous use of biofuels on vessel operations) involves a six-month trial of the continuous use of a biofuels blend comprising of 24% Fatty Acid Methyl Esters (FAME) and very low sulphur fuel oil (VLSFO) onboard a short-sea vehicle carrier that will call at multiple ports. The use of a vessel plying short-sea routes will allow regular access to fuels stored onboard for sampling and testing during frequent port calls, the partners say.

FAME, a readily available biofuel derived from second-generation feedstocks, like used cooking oil and palm oil mill effluent, presents a promising fuel alternative for immediate GHG emissions reduction in the shipping industry. While its compatibility with existing engines and bunkering infrastructure makes it an attractive “drop-in” green fuel, concerns about the impact of its extended use on vessel operations remain.

Unlike conventional marine fuels, one of the challenges with FAME is that it can be more susceptible to chemical degradation and microbial growth, the by-products of which can corrode shipboard engine systems and/ or clog fuel delivery systems. The past decade has seen trials of various biofuels onboard vessels; these have primarily focused on their combustion characteristics and the extent of emissions abatement.

Despite a promising surge in biofuel bunkering volumes at key hubs, like Singapore and Rotterdam, with sales rising from negligible levels in 2020 to 1 million MT in 2023, their use still only represents 1.7% of total bunker sales at these hubs, the partners note. “With stricter regulations in force, the use of biofuels in shipping is likely to rise significantly in the coming years. To fully understand the opportunity FAME presents to the shipping sector, a thorough investigation of the impact on its long-term use and an evaluation of the total cost of adoption is critical.

“Project LOTUS aims to address this knowledge gap by establishing industry guidelines for monitoring engine and equipment performance when using biofuels. This pilot will also evaluate the total cost of ownership of using biofuels, covering the cost of fuel and additional maintenance costs associated with its use. Additionally, it will identify potential challenges, e.g., corrosion of engine systems and valve failures, related to continuous biofuels use, and recommend mitigation strategies.”

The quantitative findings from Project LOTUS offer an opportunity to contribute complementary real-world data to the upcoming revision of ISO 8217:2024, which includes specification of standards for a wider range of FAME-based blends up to B100.

Further, these learnings will be crucial for shipowners and operators who are considering biofuels use to meet vessel compliance with regulations, like the Carbon Intensity Indicator (CII) and the FuelEU Maritime Standards, GCMD and NYK say.