Ambuja Cements Ltd has taken the lead among Indian fleet owners to weigh the option of using biofuels to run ships as the global shipping industry looks at ways to cut greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) to meet climate change goals set out in the Paris Agreement.

Ambuja, one of India’s top cement makers and a part of the global building materials and solutions company LafargeHolcim, has successfully carried out sea trials on two of its Indian flagged cement carriers - Ambuja Mukund and Ambuja Vaibhav - using biodiesel from soya extract.

Eleven nations from across the globe are partners in the International Maritime Organization’s (IMO) Norway GreenVoyage2050 Project, supporting the path to decarbonisation in the shipping sector, in line with the ‘IMO Initial GHG Strategy’ on the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions from shipping.

Through the ‘IMO Initial GHG Strategy’ adopted in 2018, IMO member states have pledged to cut annual greenhouse gas emissions from international shipping by at least half by 2050, compared with their level in 2008, and work towards phasing out GHG emissions from shipping entirely as soon as possible in this century.

India is one of the 11 countries partnering in the GreenVoyage2050 Project.

Sea trials

The ground-breaking sea trials on the two ships were carried out by the Indian Register of Shipping (IRClass), a member of the International Association of Classification Societies (IACS), verifying ships for seaworthiness, with the backing of India’s Directorate General of Shipping.

During the trial period, the emission levels for CO2 and NOx at both ballast and loaded voyages using biodiesel blend were monitored and found “satisfactory” and in compliance with global rules, according to IRClass.

“No increase of NOx was observed with the biodiesel blend as compared to low sulphur high-speed diesel (LSHSD), rather the emission level was found to be less,” IRClass said.

Though the reduction in CO2 was found to be around 7 per cent, the total life cycle reduction of CO2 by Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) was measured to be about 21 per cent as the biodiesel from soya extract had a reduction of life cycle GHG emissions by 70 per cent, it stated.

Following the successful initiative, the DG Shipping has accorded approval for biofuels trials on the remaining fleet of Ambuja Cements, which are mainly deployed on the Indian coastal route.

“We are positive that such progressive steps will lead to a discernible reduction in GHG emissions. Sustainable biofuels have great potential to reduce emission levels substantially and, once successfully trialled – will pave a cleaner new future for shipping in India”, said Vijay Arora, Joint Managing Director, IRClass.

The Indian government has taken a firm stand to cut the country’s carbon footprint by implementing of the National Policy on Biofuels with an indicative target of 20 per cent blending of ethanol in petrol and 5 per cent blending of a biodiesel in diesel by 2030.

Shifting from fossil fuels to other alternative sulphur-free fuels and means of propulsion such as biofuels or biodiesel is one of the three planks identified by the IMO to decarbonise shipping and enhance the environmental performance of the transport sector.

Biofuel is a liquid fuel derived from biological material such as trees, agricultural wastes, crops, or grass. Biodiesel is a diesel fuel substitute used in diesel engines made from renewable materials such as plant oils, waste cooking oil, other oils and animal fats.

The Ambuja Cements initiative on the use of biofuels on ships is part of an exercise flagged off by DG Shipping to propagate the use of alternate fuels on Indian coastal shipping.