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Renewable energy company, Clean Planet Energy, has revealed the details of two sustainable marine fuels produced from non-recyclable waste plastics. Branded as Clean Planet Oceans, the fuels help provide CO2 reductions of up to 75%, cutting sulfur dioxide emissions by 1500 times the current shipping standard, while simultaneously minimizing global plastic waste.
With two production plants now in the construction phase and four more in development, the UK start-up has announced its mission to remove more than 1 million tons of non-recyclable plastic waste from the environment each year.
The Current Ocean Crisis
There is currently a steady move towards electric vehicles in a global push to curb transport emissions. However, considering a single cargo ship releases the same amount of sulfur oxide emissions as 300 million cars, it is evident that there is still significant progress to be made across the transport sector.
In 2017, the IMO sulfur monitoring program revealed that the average sulfur content of global marine fuel was showing a steady annual increase, reaching 26,000 ppm in 2017.
Their response in 2020 was the introduction of a 5000-ppm limit on marine fuel’s sulfur content, which may be increased by up to 35,000 ppm if a scrubber is installed onboard.
Combined with their mandatory target “to cut shipping carbon emissions to 40% of their 2008 levels by 2030”, the marine industry is under increasing pressure to develop commercially viable sustainable fuels.
Chief Technology Officer Dr Odio, explains why this presents such a challenge: “There is currently no legitimate and scaled alternative compared to using carbon-based fuels in the Marine and Aviation sector. Whereas cars are moving to electric, the lifespan of large vessels means we’ll be stuck using fossil fuel engines for many years to come”.
However, shipping emissions are only half of the story when it comes to our environmental impact on the world’s oceans. Every year, 320 million tons of plastic are produced, of which 11% enter water systems within the same year. The shocking impact of this on sea life has been investigated by the WWF, revealing that 89% of dead adult birds are found to have ingested plastic, while 75% of all fish in the Nile contained microplastics.
Clean Planet Energy’s Sustainable Marine Fuels
Clean Planet Oceans - Sustainable Marine fuels
Video Credit: Clean Planet Energy/YouTube.com
Clean Planet Ocean fuels come in two forms: a marine residual fuel (more commonly known as bunker fuel) with a sulfur content of 35 ppm, alongside a premium marine distillate fuel boasting a sulfur content of just 3 ppm, the latter of which matches the highest EN15940 Diesel specification as defined by the European Committee for Standardisation.
These sustainable marine fuels will be produced by the company’s pyrolysis and oil-upgrading technology through the processing of non-recyclable waste plastic. This includes plastic bags and plastic straws; both notorious hazards for sea life.
Up to 60 metric tons of this non-recyclable waste plastic is fed into the Eco plant per day. Here it is shredded into <0.5 cm pieces before being heated in the plant’s oxygen-free reactor to further break down the hydrocarbon chains. A subsequent cooling phase yields a mixture of substances.
In addition to the two Clean Planet Ocean Fuels (Fuel-oil and EN15940), the reaction process also produces Naphtha, solids, and gas. This may at first appear to be waste produce, however, this is not the ethos of Clean Planet Energy. The substance Naphtha re-enters the circular plastic economy as remolded household utilities amongst other products. The solid may be used for reinforcing tires and the gas is captured to power the Eco plant itself.
How Does this Compare to Traditional Fossil Fuels?
Nitrogen dioxide and sulfur oxide are two of the most prevalent air pollutants from the burning of fossil fuels, the current standard for marine fuel. The average sulfur content of marine fuel in 2017 was found to be 26,000 ppm, however, with a scrubber installed, levels of up to 35,000 ppm are allowable in accordance with the latest IMO regulations.
In contrast, Clean Planet Ocean’s fuel oil contains 35 ppm, while its distillate fuel achieves an even smaller 3 ppm of sulfur content.
As highlighted by Dr Odio, “This means that ships using Clean Planet Ocean’s marine distillate fuel can reduce Sulfur pollution by over 1500x compared to ships using fossil fuel without a scrubber, and by more than 10,000x compared to ships with a scrubber”.
Considering the recent research published by Harvard, the impact this could have on our global health is monumental.
The carbon dioxide pollution associated with shipping is also of pressing concern. Emissions caused by shipping reached 1135 million tons in 2008, and since 2013 have begun to creep back up to these levels.
A significant contribution to this occurs during the extraction and refinery process of the oil itself. Therefore, the novel utilization of plastic feedstock, combined with the unique molecular composition of the Clean Planet Ocean Fuels, results in an astonishing overall CO2 reduction of 75%.
Further Plans for Clean Planet Energy
The recent unveiling of sustainable marine fuels was evidently a pivotal moment for Clean Planet Energy, yet there are still significant steps to be taken if they are to achieve their 1 million ton mission.
The next phase of this roadmap is crucially the construction of their processing plants. This is already in progress with two Eco Plants in construction in Teesside and Suffolk. A further four locations within the UK have also been identified with construction plans now in the development phase. Each will have a capacity to process 20,000 MT of plastic per year, preventing a total of 120,000 MT of non-recyclable plastic from going to waste.
For the continued development of these plants, energy, and environmental consultancy firm Stopford has been contracted as the EPCM Partner to ensure sustainable solutions are implemented throughout the construction. The agreed design has already been certified as meeting BREAM standards.
In addition to these main facilities, the company’s R&D fraction is currently looking into the proposal of a mobile eco plant. As explained on the company’s R&D page: “Plastic waste is everywhere, but… it’s not always everywhere in quantities suitable for building our 20,000 MT/annum ecoPlants to dispose of it. In addition, transporting plastic waste great distances isn't ecological.” This portable processer would therefore be designed with a lower conversion capability of 365-700 MT of plastic per annum, but of a size allowing it to be transported within a shipping container for easy transportation.
It is certainly promising to see the momentum with which Clean Planet Ocean Fuels are being developed, with evident thought given to implementing its processing technology. The company is however yet to release information regarding the economic feasibility of transitioning to commercial production.
It is an undeniable fact that the fuel industry is heavily influenced by financial gain, and hence the success of Clean Planet Oceans will be dependent on whether it is able to offer a price competitive with the current fuel market. With the first plant scheduled to go live in 2021, the industry will await with anticipation the release of further details regarding the company’s financial strategy.
References and Further Reading
Barret, A. (2020). Annual plastic water pollution could reach 53 million tonnes by 2030. [online] Science Focus. Available at: https://www.sciencefocus.com/news/annual-plastic-water-pollution-could-reach-53-million-tonnes-by-2030/ (Accessed on 7 April 2021)
BioEnergy International. (2021). Clean Planet Energy unveils two new ultra-clean marine fuels [online] BioEnergy International. Available at: https://bioenergyinternational.com/biofuels-oils/clean-planet-energy-unveils-two-new-ultra-clean-marine-fuels (Accessed on 8 April 2021)
Burrows, L. (2018) Deaths from fossil fuel emissions higher than previously thought. [online] Harvard school of Engineering. Available at: https://www.seas.harvard.edu/news/2021/02/deaths-fossil-fuel-emissions-higher-previously-thought (Accessed on 8 April 2021)
Clean planet Energy. (n.d.) Clean Air [online] Clean Planet Energy. Available at: https://www.cleanplanetenergy.com/clean-air (Accessed on 7 April 2021)
Clean planet Energy. (n.d.) EcoPlants. [online] Clean Planet Energy. Available at: https://www.cleanplanetenergy.com/ecoplant (Accessed on 7 April 2021
Clean planet Energy. (n.d.) Partners. [online] Clean Planet Energy Available at: https://www.cleanplanetenergy.com/partners (Accessed on 8 April 2021)
Hanley, S. (2021) Clean Planet Energy Makes Fuels For Airplanes & Ships From Non-Recyclable Plastics. [online] Clean Technica. Available at: https://cleantechnica.com/2021/03/23/clean-planet-energy-makes-fuels-for-airplanes-ships-from-non-recyclable-plastics/ (Accessed on 8 April 2021)
Hydrocarbon processing. (2021) Clean Planet Oceans: Sustainable Marine Fuels Made From Non-Recyclable Waste Plastics. [online] Hydrocarbon Processing. Available at: https://www.hydrocarbonprocessing.com/news/2021/03/clean-planet-energy-unveil-two-new-ultra-clean-marine-fuels-made-from-non-recyclable-plastic-waste (Accessed on 7 April 2021)
IBIA. (2017) Test data for 2017 show limited share of low sulphur residual fuels. [online] IBIA. Avaiable at: https://ibia.net/2018/04/26/test-data-for-2017-show-limited-share-of-low-sulphur-residual-fuels/ (Accessed on 8 April 2021)
IMO. (2020) IMO 2020 – cutting sulphur oxide emissions. [online] IMO. Available at: https://www.imo.org/en/MediaCentre/HotTopics/Pages/Sulphur-2020.aspx (Accessed on 9 April 2021)
IMO. (2020). Reducing greenhouse gas emissions from ships. [online] IMO. Available at: https://www.imo.org/en/MediaCentre/HotTopics/Pages/Reducing-greenhouse-gas-emissions-from-ships.aspx. (Accessed on 9 April 2021)
Olmer, N. et al. (2017) Greenhouse Gas Emissions From Global Shipping, 2013–2015. [online] The International Council on Clean Transports. Available at: https://theicct.org/sites/default/files/publications/Global-shipping-GHG-emissions-2013-2015_ICCT-Report_17102017_vF.pdf (Accessed on 9 April 2021)
Rodrigue, J. (2020) Fuel Consumption by Containership Size and Speed. [online] The Georgraphy of Transport Systems. https://transportgeography.org/contents/chapter4/transportation-and-energy/fuel-consumption-containerships/
Vidal, J. (2016) The world's largest cruise ship and its supersized pollution problem. [online] The Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/may/21/the-worlds-largest-cruise-ship-and-its-supersized-pollution-problem (Accessed on 7 April 2021)
WWF. (2018) How many birds die from plastic pollution? [online] WWF. Available at: https://www.wwf.org.au/news/blogs/how-many-birds-die-from-plastic-pollution (Accessed on 7 April 2021)