VERGE

Maersk Tests Algae-Based Biofuel in Cargo Voyage to India

Maersk Tests Algae-Based Biofuel in Cargo Voyage to India

Maersk is testing a range of algae-based biofuel blends aboard a container ship headed to India as part of a project with the U.S. Navy.

Maersk, based in Denmark, has worked with the Navy for about 30 years. However, the biofuels testing program is the first partnership between the world's largest commercial container carrier and the Navy's Naval Sea Systems Command.

Both the Navy and the Maersk Line, which is part of the A.P. Moller - Maersk Group, are on a mission to reduce the environmental impacts of their operations at sea and on land.

The 300-meter Maersk Kalmar, which has a dedicated test engine and a fuel system that includes equipment to blend biofuel and house it in separate tanks, was chosen for the project. While on a month-long voyage from Bremerton, Germany, to Pipav, India, the ship used 30 tons of biofuel derived from algae in blends ranging from 7 percent to 100 percent.

The blends were evaluated for nitrogen oxides, sulfur oxide and carbon dioxide emissions and particulate matter residue, in addition to basic performance issues, such as power efficiency and wear and tear on the engine. An analysis of the test results is pending. Maersk and the Navy announced their project mid-month, just as the data collection phase was wrapping up.

The Navy and the shipping industry are seeking more earth-friendly ways to power and design ships without sacrificing capacity or performance of the vessels. At the same time, industry regulators are working to tighten standards on emissions.

"We expect to identify an optimal blend of distillate and biofuel that will meet the more stringent requirements of the International Maritime Organization's forthcoming emissions regulations," said David Anderson, Maersk's technical representative for the biofuel testing project, in a statement.

Maersk, whose fleet includes more than 1,300, set a goal of reducing its emissions by at least 10 percent based on 2007 levels by 2012. It surpassed that goal and beat the target date by achieving a 13 percent reduction by the close of 2010.

By then, the company also was able to trace and track 85 percent of its emissions and became the first in its industry to verify the emissions of its ships. Maersk said in its latest sustainability report that the remaining 15 percent of corporate emissions come from office buildings and small vessels with scant historical data, a situation the company is trying to improve.

Earlier this year, the company said it had ordered the greenest container ship yet designed. The Triple E from Daewoo Shipbuilding & Marine Engineering Company is expected on average to consume half the energy and emit half the carbon of other carriers serving Europe-Asia trade routes. The Triple E is scheduled to launch 2013.

The Navy's work toward greater environmental responsibility includes a plan with the Energy and Agriculture departments to invest $510 million for production of advanced drop-in aviation and marine biofuels.

Photo of the Maersk Trapani by Pres Panayotov / Shutterstock.com.