EAFO: European Observatory for Alternative Fuels.

The European Fuel Observatory Alternative maintains a section dedicated to maritime transport in Europe.

Alternative fuels used as fuel in maritime transport are not currently widespread, but LNG (mainly seagoing vessels) and vessels using electric traction with batteries or hydrogen (fuel cells) as energy storage (in applications small ships and ferries) are attracting attention. In addition, several "drop-in" Alternative Fuels have been applied for maritime transport on an experimental basis.

The alternative fuels for navigation that will be reported on the EAFO portal are:

  • Liquefied natural gas (LNG),
  • Electricity (energy carrier),
  • Hydrogen, Biofuels,
  • Methanol,
  • Dimethyl ether (DME),
  • LPG.

Most of the EAFO reports will refer to demonstration projects using alternative fuels in shipping and technological advances. Regarding the geographical scope, in the case of seagoing vessels a global approach with more details will be followed if they are available for the European area of operations. The application of alternative fuels for inland navigation is limited and is primarily test-oriented.

For seagoing vessels, LNG is the most widely used alternative fuel. For LNG, a traditional use is LNG ships in which most ships use dual-fuel diesel engines capable of using any combination of LNG and bunker fuels, using boiled LNG cargo as fuel. Other types of shipping vessels are also in operation.

LNG is also an attractive fuel option for ships, particularly to meet the new limits for sulfur content in marine fuels, which will be reduced from 1% to 0.1% as of January 1, 2015 in the sulfur emission control zones in the Baltic Sea, the North Sea and the English Channel, as established by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) 19. These obligations will be relevant for around half of the 10,000 vessels currently engaged in maritime transport within the EU. LNG is an attractive economic alternative also for maritime transport outside the SECAs, where sulfur limits will decrease from 3.5% to 0.5% as of January 1, 2020, and worldwide.

The use of alternative fuels is regarded today as a key relevant area of The use of alternative fuels is today considered a key relevant area of technological development for sustainable transport. In maritime transport, as in other modes of transport, constant attention is paid today to the possible application of different solutions for less polluting fuels, some of which pose significant problems for ship design. The gradual adoption of these fuels, and the example set by the pioneers, has been instrumental in paving the way for the wider use of alternative fuels in the future.


Taking into account the large contribution of shipping to the global transport market (accounting for more than 80% of world trade by volume, 3% of global greenhouse gas emissions and contributes to air pollution near coastal areas and ports), the gradual adoption of alternative fuels by maritime transport would have an important and immediate positive environmental impact.


However, a common problem posed by the adoption of most alternative fuels is their physical-chemical characteristics, typically with associated low flash points, higher volatilities, different energy content per unit mass and, in some cases, even toxicity. The approval and entry into force of the draft International Safety Code for Ships Using Gases or Other Low-Flash Point Fuels (IGF Code), together with the proposed amendments to make the Code mandatory under the SOLAS Convention, by MSC95, on June 11, 2015, was a decisive step in addressing these challenges, at the regulatory level. The IGF Code includes mandatory provisions for the arrangement, installation, control and monitoring of machinery, equipment and systems that use low-flashpoint fuels, such as liquefied natural gas (LNG), in order to minimize the risk to the ship , your crew and the environment, taking into account the nature of the fuels in question. LNG has been the first focus of attention of the IGF Code; however, provisions for methyl and ethyl alcohols, fuel cells and low-flash point petroleum fuels are being drafted for the first revision of the code, scheduled for 2020/21

There is a long list of fuels or energy carriers that can be used in shipping. Those most commonly considered today are:

  • Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG),
  • Electricity,
  • Biodiesel, 
  • Methanol.

Other fuels that could take center stage in the future are

  • Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG),
  • Ethanol,
  • Dimethyl Ether (DME),
  • Biogas,
  • Synthetic Fuels,
  • Hydrogen (particularly for use in fuel cells), 
  • Nuclear.

All of these fuels are virtually sulfur free and can be used to meet sulfur content standards. They can be used in combination with conventional petroleum-based marine fuels, thus meeting only part of the energy demand of a vessel, or to completely replace conventional fuels. The type of alternative fuel selected and the proportion of conventional fuel substituted will have a direct impact on the vessel's emissions, including GHG, NOx and SOx.


Being international in its operation and organization, the maritime sector is regulated by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) within the framework of the United Nations. IMO deals with safety and pollution issues related to international shipping. One of the main issues in pollution from shipping is particulate matter emitted due to high levels of sulfur in fuels. The IMO has proposed strict regulation of sulfur levels in fuels. Emission control zones have been established in the coastal waters of Europe, North America and Asia. Within these areas, only fuels with 0.1% of low sulfur content are allowed, and from 2020 ships sailing in non-ECA areas will have to use less than 0.5% of sulfur in their fuel. If low sulfur fuels are not used, it is necessary to install scrubbers to remove SOx emissions.

These regulations mean that it is estimated that a 70% of the fuels currently used by the sector must be modified or changed. Greenhouse gas emissions, i.e. CO2, are not currently regulated, but it is expected that the regulation of CO2 emissions will be implemented in the short and medium term.

The sector is currently studying the possibility of solving the issue of reducing sulfur levels by using more refined fuels, an operation that is carried out in the oil refinery. This will not only add additional cost, but will also increase the CO2 emissions associated with the fuel, as more refining will be required. Low sulfur fuels currently being introduced are labeled Very Low Sulfur Fuel Oil (VLSFO) which has 0.1 to 0.5% sulfur and Ultra Low Sulfur Fuel Oil (ULSFO) which has less than 0.1% of sulfur. Another solution to reduce sulfur emissions is to use liquefied natural gas (LNG) as fuel, but this requires overhauling the engines, as well as the pressurized fuel storage that must be installed on board. Other fuels, such as methanol, are used to a lesser extent with state-of-the-art diesel engine technology, but are still in a premature state of supply infrastructure.


Biofuels have very low sulfur levels and low CO2 emissions, making them a technically viable solution for low-sulfur fuels that meet VLSFO or ULSFO requirements. The immediate challenge is that the shipping industry has little knowledge of the handling and application of biofuels as part of its fuel supply. Another challenge is that the volumes of biofuels required to supply the shipping sector are large. A single very large vessel can consume the annual output of a single medium-sized biofuel facility, for example 100 million liters. Consequently, market entry for biofuels in the maritime sector is more favorable aboard smaller vessels for coastal waters or for use as an ultra-low sulfur auxiliary fuel in ports. Of the current biofuels available on the market, only vegetable biodiesel derived from vegetable oil or pulp residues and bioethanol are produced at a level where they can supply significant volumes of fuel. Current renewable diesel-type fuels are produced primarily from vegetable oils or products thereof, for example used cooking oil (UCO), and the potential supply of sustainable renewable diesel with current technology is estimated to be 10 to 20 million tons. Another issue is that vegetable oil-based fuels are the main type of fuel currently used on a large scale for jet biofuels, leading to competition for raw materials between the shipping and aviation sectors. .

Source: EAFO

The EAFO website is an effort shared by Member States, other countries and partners. If you have information to share or comment on the data presented,  contact the EAFO team.
www.eafo.eu is a European Commission funded initiative at the responsibility of DG Transport & Mobility, which provides open and free information, amongst others to support Member States with the implementation of EU Directive 2014/94 on the deployment of alternative fuels infrastructure. 


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