Shipping: Biodiesel’s Perfect Early Adopter
July 15, 2008
A side effect of the rising crude prices is a drastic increase in naval shipping cost. As a result, the massive amount of stuff that we ship in daily from China to Wal-Marts around the country will become more expensive (Financial Times Article). This reduction in the efficiency of transport creates yet another way in which oil prices are systemically affecting the economy.
So I was thinking about this issue and how biofuels could be applied, and realized that the shipping industry would be a perfect early adopter of biodiesel. I am basing this assessment on two basic facts:
1. All shipping vessels are powered by diesel engines
2. The fuel is all stored in centralized locations (sea ports)
As a result, the naval shipping industry has none of the adoption hurtles for biodiesel found in the auto fuel market. The shipping companies would be greatly incentivized to begin purchasing a fraction of their fuel from a more stable source.
The real question is: what is the current price point for biodiesel production? And could a venture reduce costs to a point where it beats traditional diesel?
As for the technical implementation, I found a great presentation by Richard Sadler of Llyod’s Register Group concerning biofuels and shipping. Slides 25 and 26 have a list of technical challenges and a diagram of a fuel layout system; although, the whole thing has some great data.
Beyond the use of biofuels, there are also various wind power strategies. A minor drawback to the wind assisted ships is their confinement to wind friendly shipping routes.
One forward looking group from Japan produced a concept ship that utilizes biofuel, wind AND solar. I would have to call it the Trifecta.