INTERVIEW: Stena Bulk Plans Biofuels Roll-Out After Successful Trial

by Jack Jordan, Managing Editor, Ship & Bunker
Tuesday May 12, 2020

Shipping company Stena Bulk is seeking to roll out its use of biofuels to more ships after a successful trial of a product from supplier GoodFuels.

The company carried out a trial of 100% biofuel bunkers on board the Stena Immortal during a ten-day period in late March to early April in which the ship carried out normal commercial options.

"Our main objectives were, first of all, to show the technical feasibility, that it works with our ships and our engines, but also operationally so that we know we can actually run on low-carbon fuels and still keep the high performance and high quality of operation and customer service", Peter Björkborg, sustainability and transportation manager at Stena, said in a recent interview with Ship & Bunker.

“We are ready to roll it out, on a broader scale as well, as soon as our customers ask for it, as soon as there is availability and all the commercial aspects are in place."

Customer Demand

Stena is keen to roll out the use of biofuels further among its fleet as demand emerges and if the regulatory environment is supportive, according to Lars Malmbratt, general manager of the company's marine fuels department.

"We work actively with our clients to find solutions and a way to do it," Malmbratt said in the interview.

"We are part of an ecosystem here -- there are suppliers, producers, customers, there’s ourselves and there’s also a legislative part as well with the regulations.

"From our point of view, we would like to do as much as we can within this space to be hopefully kind of a trailblazer in this field.

"That will make it easier for the others to follow."

Björkborg said the ship performed very well in the trial, with no technical issues or disturbance to commercial operations reported, and described the 'drop-in' nature of the fuel as "a huge advantage."

GHG Targets

Interest in the use of biofuel bunkers has increased significantly over the last year as they are seen as a promising route for the industry to meet its IMO 2030 and IMO 2050 GHG emissions reduction goals.

For the the bio-bunkers used in Stena Bulk's trial, GoodFuels says its "MR1-100" fuel lowers carbon dioxide emissions around 83% compared to conventional bunkers if considered on a full life cycle perspective that includes the production and distribution of the fuel.

Biofuel is one of the alternatives Stena is looking at in the short term as a greenhouse gas reduction strategy, Björkborg said, as well as the methanol being used on board the ferry Stena Germanica, owned by sister company Stena Line.

"We believe that it's important to start with the options that we have in the short term," he said.

"In the longer term, obviously, there are a number of different options, bio being one of them.

"But we are really exploring everything from synthetic fuels, ammonia and hydrogen in the long run as well, and gas of course.

"We need to have two thoughts in our head at the same time, I think: what can we do right now, in the coming years, and also where do we think we're going in the long term?"

Crude Collapse

The collapse in crude prices since early March and the general economic shocks around the COVID-19 pandemic will have made the economic case for alternative fuels harder, making them look more expensive against conventional fossil fuels at the same time as most shipping companies have less money to spend on sustainability projects.

Malmbratt acknowledged there was a risk of some shipping companies setting aside decarbonisation plans, but said it was unlikely to be a significant problem.

"We haven’t really seen any slowdown in development and in activity within this field," he said.

"One concern is, of course, that the shipping market is itself going to hit the wall somewhere in Q4 or early next year.

"And then then, of course, at the very high level, there could be some discussions about this, but I very much doubt it because it's something that we all agree on that we have to do."

Björkborg agreed, saying that because the decarbonisation agenda was more about research and discussion at this stage, rather than the heavy investment needed later, there is little opportunity for shipping companies to claw back money from it at the moment.

"A lot of these things that we're talking about now are really mid-term and long-term; it's not that we will be able to just throw in a lot of money right now in investments because it's not really where we are in the development," he said.

"For now companies in the industry and outside are making small attempts at getting together and finding out which are the most viable pathways moving forward.

"The really big investments in this thing are in the years to come, and not maybe right now."