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Q&A: Marine CO2 goals need culture shift: TotalEnergies

  • : Biofuels, Hydrogen, Oil products
  • 24/05/20

A cultural change in buying behaviour and supply patterns is necessary for the shipping sector to meet its decarbonisation targets and may be the biggest hurdle to overcome, strategy and projects director for TotalEnergies' marine fuels division Frederic Meyer told Argus. Edited highlights follow:

What is the biggest challenge standing in the way of the maritime industry in meeting decarbonisation targets and the fuel transition ?

A cultural change is required — for decades the maritime sector has relied on by-products with high energy density from the crude refining process such as fuel oil. The industry will now have to pivot its attention towards fuels developed for the purpose of consumption within the maritime industry. This will also require time as the sector looks to level up, and it remains to be seen whether there will be enough time to meet the International Maritime Organisation (IMO)'s net-zero by or around 2050 targets. But we have seen some good progress from cargo owners who are seeking scope 3 emissions related documents.

How does TotalEnergies see marine biodiesel demand moving in the short term?

In the short term, there is little incentive for the majority of buyers in the market. This is due to a lack of any regulatory mandates, as well as limited impact from existing regulations such as the IMO's carbon intensity indicator (CII) and the EU's Emissions Trading System (ETS).

Despite providing a zero emission factor incentive for biofuels meeting the sustainability criteria under the EU's Renewable Energy Directive (RED), EU ETS is still on a staggered implementation basis beginning with only 40pc this year, rising to 70pc next year and 100pc in 2026. Further, EU ETS prices have been quite low, which also weighed on financial incentives for marine biodiesel. Therefore, many buyers are currently waiting for further incentives and signals from the regulators before purchasing marine biodiesel blends.

Another point impacting demand is the current edition of ISO 8217, which does not provide much flexibility when it comes to marine biodiesel blend percentages and specifications. The new 2024 edition will likely provide greater flexibility for blending percentages, as well as a provision for biodiesel that does not meet EN14214 specifications. This will provide greater flexibility from a supply point of view.

However, there remains stable demand from buyers who can pass on the extra costs to their customers.

And how do you see this demand fluctuating in the medium to long term?

If the other alternative marine fuels, such as ammonia and methanol, that are currently being discussed do not develop at the speed necessary to meet the decarbonisation targets, then marine biodiesel demand will likely be firm.

Many in the market have voiced concerns regarding biofuel feedstock competition between marine and aviation, ahead of the implementation of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) mandates in Europe starting next year. With Argus assessments for SAF at much higher levels than marine biodiesel blends, do you think common feedstocks such as used cooking oil (UCO) will get pulled away from maritime and into aviation?

With regards to competition among different industries for the same biofuel feedstock, suppliers may channel their feedstock towards aviation fuels due to the higher non-compliance penalties associated with SAF regulations as opposed to those in marine, which would incentivise greater demand for SAF. An area that can be explored for marine is the by-product when producing SAF, which can amount to up to 30pc of the fuel output. This could potentially feed into a marine biodiesel supply pool. So it's not necessarily the case that the two sectors will battle over the same feedstock if process synergies can be found.

Regarding fuel specifications, market participants have told Argus that the lack of a marine-specific fuel standard for alternatives such as marine biodiesel is feeding into uncertainty for buyers who may not be as familiar with biofuels. What impact could this have on demand for marine biodiesel blends from your point of view?

Currently, mainstream biodiesel specifications in marine biodiesel blends are derived from other markets such as the EN14214 specification from road diesel engines. But given the large flexibility of a marine engine, there is room to test and try different things. For "unconventional" biofuels that do not meet those road specifications, there needs to be a testing process accompanied by proof of results that showcase its safety for combustion within a marine engine.

Some companies may not have the means or capacity to test their biodiesel before taking it into the market. But TotalEnergies always ensures that there are no engine-related issues from fuel combustion. Suppliers need to enact the necessary testing and take on the burden, as cutting out this process may create a negative perception for the product more generally.

Traders should also take on some of the burden and test their fuels to ensure they are fully compatible with the engine.

With many regulations being discussed, how do you see the risk of regulatory clashes impacting the industry?

The simple solution would be an electronic register to trace the chain of custody. In the French markets, often times the proof of sustainability (PoS) papers are stored onto an electronic database once they are retired to the relevant authority. This database is then accessible and viewable by the buyer, and the supplier could also further deliver a "sustainability information letter" which mirrors the details found in the PoS. It is important for the maritime sector to adopt an electronically traceable system.

What role could other types of fuels such as pyrolysis oil potentially play in the maritime sector's decarbonisation targets?

We have teams in research and development at TotalEnergies which are studying the potential use of other molecules, including but not limited to pyrolysis oil, for usage in the maritime sector. It may become an alternative option to avoid industry clashes, as pyrolysis oil would not be an attractive option to the aviation sector.

We are currently exploring tyre-based pyrolysis oil, but have only started doing so recently so it remains an untapped resource. We need to figure out the correct purification and distillation process to ensure compatibility with marine engines. For the time being we are specifically looking at tyre-based pyrolysis oil and not plastic-based, but we may look at the latter in a later stage.

The fuel would also have to meet the RED criteria of a 65-70pc greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction compared with conventional fossil fuels, so we are still exploring whether this can be achieved.

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