Algal oil powers cargo and navy ships in marine fuel trials

Substituting biofuel for bunker fuel may bring about revolution in world’s shipping fleets, Giant cargo boats and US navy warships have been successfully powered on oil derived from genetically modified algae. This could start a revolution in the fuel used by the world’s fleets – and a reduction in the pollution they cause.

Shipping takes 350m tonnes of oil a year and causes 3-4% of all greenhouse gas emissions, so it is very attractive to find alternatives. 10% or more of the world’s ships could be powered by biofuels in 20 years’ time. The US Navy and the world’s largest shipping company Maersk are currently conducting feasibility trial with Solazyme that manufactures the fuel in giant fermentation tanks in Pennsylvania. The fast-growing algae are fed crop or forest waste and convert their sugars to oil.

Unlike early biofuels, which made transport fuel from food crops, the new “second generation” process uses only plant waste and does not displace foods which could be fed to people or animals. Nevertheless, immense amounts of feedstock would be needed to power the world’s ships. Maersk estimates it could take the crop waste of an area half the size of Denmark to completely power its ships.

But even a partial switch to algal oils would massively reduce air pollution. Bunker fuel, which is little more than asphalt, can produce as much pollution from a single ship in a year as 50m cars and is the most polluting fuel in the world.

Read the full News article in The Guardian

Additional reading:

Navy to Buy $12 Million of Advanced Biofuels in Record Purchase 5 Dec 2011

Solazyme ranked #1 in “50 Hottest Companies in Bioenergy” for 2011-12 9 November 2011

Aviation companies use local biofuel 8 November 2011 See video below:


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