Sustainable Marine Biofuel Initiative

Context of Transport Climate Action

Shipping plays a vital role in the world economy and around 90% of the world’s trade is presently transported by ship. Global shipping is responsible for around 3% of the total global CO2 emissions. Due to anticipated growth in the world economy and associated transport demand, the greenhouse gas emissions of the shipping industry are expected to increase by 50% to 250% by 2050.

In addition, shipping accounts for up to 4-9% of all sulphur, and 10-15% of all nitrous oxide emissions.

All global regulatory bodies acknowledge the fact that GHG emissions should be cut drastically to keep global warming under 2° C. Shipping should play a role in this as well, but so far no strict regulations or market based measures have been implemented. In 2011, the EU declared that GHG emissions from shipping should be cut by at least 40% in 2050 (compared to 2005 levels) and if feasible 50%.

Efficiency measures will play a role in reducing the carbon intensity of ships, but in order to actually achieve GHG reductions for the sector, biofuels are an essential part of the future marine fuel mix, as none of the other alternative fuels reduce GHG emissions significantly.

Boskalis (a leading global dredging and marine company) and GoodFuels (the marine fuel unit of the Dutch GoodFuels Group active in development of sustainable fuels), together with marine engine producer Wärtsilä, have developed a Sustainable Marine Biofuels Initiative. This is designed to boost the development of sustainable marine biofuels, and aims to prove the feasibility and viability of biofuels in the marine sector. In order to prepare for future emission caps and stricter CO2 regulations, adding sustainable marine biofuels to the marine fuel mix is a necessity.


Project partners Boskalis, GoodFuels and Wärtsilä are implementing a two-year marine biofuel testing and pilot program. During these two years, a number of biofuels will be tested in Wärtsilä’s lab and engine-testing facility, and on board Boskalis vessels. The aim of the program is to overcome technical barriers that may exist for marine biofuels, explore new biofuel opportunities and create trust in the market that biofuels are suitable for shipping. During the first year the focus will be on Marine Gas Oil (MGO)-type biofuels, while the second year will see several Heavy Fuel Oil (HFO)-type biofuels being tested.

The role of GoodFuels is to accelerate the development of a structural market (structural demand and supply) for marine biofuels and push for the development of sustainable marine biofuels that are long term competitive with conventional fossil fuels.


There are two key success criteria to the Sustainable Marine Biofuels Initiative:

1. Engine compliance.

For a smooth market introduction of marine biofuels, the fuel should be comparable, compatible, and competitive with current shipping fuels. Presently GoodFuels’ focus is on MGO-type biofuels. The ‘drop-in’[1] quality of GoodFuels’ biofuels ensures that current logistical and operational systems can remain in place. The program will target both Marine Gas Oil(MGO)-type biofuels (diesel quality) and lower-grade Heavy Fuel Oil(HFO)-type biofuels. Because marine engines are capable of handling lower-grade biofuels than road or aviation engines, marine biofuels are easier and cheaper to produce than their road or aviation equivalents. There are considerable opportunities in a number of biomass residues as sustainable feedstock for this; most notable are those of lignocellulosic origin (forestry and agricultural residues).

2. Sustainability

The biofuels supplied will be under scrutiny of GoodFuels’ independent Sustainability Committee. Sustainable biofuels are produced with feedstock that do not compete with food or feed production, neither through direct usage of food/feed products nor through (indirect) Land Use Change. In practice, this is achieved by producing biofuels only from waste and residue materials, or from dedicated energy crops harvested on degraded land where other agricultural activities are not possible. The 12 principles of the Roundtable of Sustainable Biomaterials (RSB) are used as a guideline for the sustainability aspects of the project.

[1] i.e. there is no need for infrastructure or engine modification to operate using the biofuel


By testing and developing sustainable marine biofuels, the shipping sector shows its commitment to reduce its carbon footprint. Recently, regulations limiting SOx and NOx emissions have forced ship owners to re-think how to fuel their vessels. However, at the moment shipping does not have a regulatory framework for the reduction of CO2, but it is expected that this may change in the (near) future: The EU has already implemented MRV (Monitoring, Reporting and verification) regulations of CO2 emissions by ships as a first step towards future reduction targets, while the International Maritime Organization (IMO) is under pressure to include carbon reduction regulations for the first time in the UNFCCC international climate change framework at COP 21.

Biofuels can reduce both local air pollutants and lifecycle CO2 emissions drastically. When produced in a sustainable way, lifecycle CO2 emissions can be reduced by more than 80%. It is the only available option significantly reducing the carbon footprint of marine fuel, which is essential if shipping is to play its part in reaching global carbon reduction targets.

Potential for scaling up

We estimate that by 2030 biofuels could make up 5-10% of the total global marine fuel mix. Global demand for marine biofuels is projected to reach more than 83 million tons annually, or 20% of the total current fossil fuel use in shipping, in 2050.

The drivers for scalability are twofold, regulatory and market driven. Stricter emission regulations will drive the shipping industry to reduce its carbon footprint, while certain first-mover clients and segments can already see a positive business case for switching to biofuels, giving them a lead in true sustainable shipping. The enormous amount of fuel used in the shipping sector has the high potential for reducing CO2 (and also cost-reductions). It also provides a huge market for the biobased economy that is developing across the globe with the associated potential for job creation.

Considering this two-year project, there is a great opportunity for testing not only biofuels, but also the surrounding infrastructure, and finally to assess possibilities for scaling up in the future.

Selected references

GoodFuels White Paper on Sustainable Marine Biofuels (2015)









Europe, Mitigation, Shipping, Technology, Partnerships


Royal Royal Boskalis (NL), GoodFuels Marine (NL), Wärtsilä (FI)


Dirk Kronemeijer:

“We strongly believe in the need for sustainable “drop in” marine biofuels and their potential as part of the long term fuel mix, as we see them as an important means of improving the sustainability of the industry. Participating in this pilot and making our vessels available is in line with Boskalis’ approach to seeking innovations that work hand in hand with sustainability.”
-Theo Baartmans, COO, Boskalis, Project Partner