Collaborative project aims for biofuel-powered ship trials
The Naval Architect: April 2020
In 2019, ShippingLab embarked on its mission to create Denmark’s first autonomous, environmentally friendly ship. One of the initiative’s three working packages focuses on decarbonisation and its aim was loosely defined as demonstrating the viability of zero emissions power supplies.
But could the collaboration between Kvasir, a spin out project from the Technical University for Denmark, and Danish shipping company Norden, see the first feasible production and implementation of biofuel in shipping?
According to Kvasir’s CEO and co-founder, Joachim Backmann Nielsen, the company’s biofuel is the most efficient and potentially cheapest solution to decarbonisation in shipping. “The name ‘Kvasir’ derives from an old Norse word that literally means crushing and squeezing the juice out of something – which is what we are doing when converting biomass into liquid product. Except we are doing what nature achieves in millions of years in a couple of minutes,” says Nielsen.
The company’s patented technology is a liquefaction process that transforms non-edible biomass such as wood chippings into stable ‘bio crude’. Kvasir states that its method is best described as ‘pressurised cooking in alcohol’, where biomass is broken down into smaller fragments and expels oxygen as it is heated in ethanol to 400°C. The supercritical ethanol atmosphere created within the reactor stabilises the reactive biomass fragments to create a liquid biofuel oil.
Nielsen insists the resultant biofuel is significant not only because it’s zero sulphur, but also as its raw material originally comprises up to 40% oxygen. “Typically, you can’t produce a stable product when there is oxygen present in the blend, as possible microbial activity can break the fuel down and cause it go bad over time,” he adds.
He believes the technology is 100% sustainable as Kvasir exclusively converts non-edible plant material mainly containing lignin: a complex organic polymer that forms structural materials in the secondary cell walls of plants but is most commonly found in wood.
Nielsen insists that this gives Kvasir biofuel a market advantage as it utilises previously untapped resources. “We use products from all over the world, known as lignin cellulose, a material no one has been able to use in the past.”
Kvasir claims that there is a nearly infinite supply of lignin, with several usable raw materials globally. Additionally, Nielsen says that as the company would not need to rely on a single source, the risk of high feedstock costs could be mitigated, which would be beneficial for shipping companies (such as Norden) that are subject to fluctuations in feedstock prices.
In 2018, Norden first trialled used cooking oil biofuel as a drop-in solution on its product tanker, Nord Highlander, which left Antwerp burning fossil fuel then switched to biofuel after a visual engine inspection took place. Last year, a second trial took place on the 49,600dwt chemical/product tanker Nord Sustainable, which completed a journey from Ventspils, Latvia to Alger Algeria, using entirely biofuel.
“We concluded that there may be enough to power our own fleet, but definitely not enough for the whole world, which is where Kvasir comes in,” says Henrik Røjel, decarbonisation manager at Norden shipping.
“Supplying our entire fleet operating across five different sectors is quite a challenge. We are not able to just wait for somebody to build us a perfect zero emission vessel, especially if we are going to charter 300 to 400 ships, the only solution that we can see, at least in the near future, is biofuel,” he adds.
Kvasir is still in the beginning stages of its biofuel production. However, in 2020, the company will begin upscaling, for which it will first need to create continuous bio oil production. By 2022, Kvasir aims to have stored 30 – 50tonnes of biofuel using a pilot plant, in preparation for ship trials with Norden. To generate this amount of biofuel equivalent to HFO, the company requires 75 – 125tonnes of dry biomass which would ultimately fuel a maximum of two days voyage on a Norden ship.