INTERVIEW: ZeroNorth Sees Growing Demand for e-BDNs

by Jack Jordan, Managing Editor, Ship & Bunker
Wednesday March 27, 2024

Maritime technology firm ZeroNorth is seeing growing demand for its e-BDN service as Singapore edges towards making the system mandatory for marine fuel supply in its waters.

Singapore launched the use of e-BDNs in November, with ZeroNorth among the four firms whitelisted as suppliers of this service to the local bunker industry.

The firm now anticipates the service becoming a mandatory part of bunkering in Singapore by the end of this year, with a possible announcement at Singapore Maritime Week events next week, Kenneth Juhls, managing director of ZeroNorth Bunker, said in an interview with Ship & Bunker.

ZeroNorth is currently providing its e-BDN service to just over 90 barges, of which about 60 are Singapore-based. The typical payment model is a fee per barge per month, with the fee varying depending on the size of the operation.

"They haven't firmed up the date yet [of when e-BDNs will be made mandatory]," Juhls said.

"I really hope and expect that they will announce something during Singapore Maritime Week in April to give some indication to the market on when it will become mandatory.

"I do expect this to happen probably in Q4 2024. But I think it's also fair to say that MPA is obviously looking at all the learnings right now.

"Putting regulatory pressure on this really accelerates the adoption, so I don't see a need for pushing this out further.

"I think whatever learnings we're taking right now can be solved by collaborating with MPA, the suppliers and the service providers, and I'm sure we can overcome that."

Suppliers Scrambling

The company has seen growing interest from bunker suppliers at the start of the year to take advantage of a subsidy from Singapore's MPA before it expires.

Companies that successfully apply for a grant before the end of March will have half their e-BDN cost paid for the first year after that.

"All the suppliers are scrambling to figure out who to partner up with from the four listed service providers," Juhls said.

"We have met with basically all 41 licensed suppliers that in some shape or form need to comply at some point.

"I would expect that by the end of March, when the grant from MPA runs out, the majority of the ones that are eligible for that grant will have made a decision and actually applied for the grant.

"Because it's quite an attractive carrot MPA provided by paying 50% of the first year's subscription fee."

Beyond Singapore

The firm is currently cautious in its outlook for e-BDN uptake beyond Singapore, with demand emerging organically from suppliers and buyers but less pressure being imposed by regulators.

"I haven't seen any port authorities being as progressive as MPA, at least not by putting money behind it," Juhls said.

"I do really think that there will be enormous pressure from suppliers and customers to adopt this very fast, because there's so many scale benefits, efficiency benefits, speed of transactions, for the supplier.

"But also I think there will come quite a significant push from the buyers.

"We have dialogues in ARA, in the US, the Mediterranean and the Middle East."

Alternative Fuels

The growing uptake of alternative fuels may also be a driver of demand for e-BDN services.

"I would expect this to increase quite a lot, because we need much more information related to these new fuels," Juhls said.

"All the energy calculations you need to do going forward will be much easier with more information you get, as early as possible.

"There's a lot of information that we can capture much better with this e-BDN solution."

Further Developments

Juhls is also chair of industry body IBIA's digitalisation working group. One of the issues the group is working on is to get the competing digital systems to work in compatible ways.

"It's very much about standardisation -- how we can make sure that the different providers of e-BDN solutions have some sort of common trait in terms of the data they're capturing," he said.

"That would make it easier for the buy side of the market to actually use the different service providers."

And from ZeroNorth's point of view, one of the challenges the company has been addressing is how to work in areas with unreliable internet access.

"The main issue that persists is connectivity issues -- do you have access to the internet," Juhls said.

"In some places it's strong and in others it's less strong.

"One of the things that is super important and that we now have live in the market is an offline mode.

"That means you can execute the full delivery offline, and once you're back online, you can save all the data and redistribute it afterwards."