Sunflowers, rapeseed and other crops are the basis for the cooking oil used in many kitchens. Recycled and processed, it is serving as a low-emission biofuel to power container ships. It may sound futuristic, but it’s already a reality.
Already today, 71 of the 251 ships in our fleet are able to operate using biofuel. Of these, 24 actually did employ biofuel for propulsion last year. In 2020, in the Port of Rotterdam, the “Al Nefud” (18,000 TEU) became the first Hapag-Lloyd ship to be bunkered with the alternative fuel. For a long time, it didn’t look like it would be easy for our giant ocean-going ships to set a course for climate neutrality – especially since they have traditionally used heavy fuel oil for propulsion. The latter is a waste product from oil refineries and therefore emission-intensive.
The heavy fuel Oil is now being replaced by a waste product from the foodservice industry: used cooking oil, otherwise known as “brown grease”. The result is a much more positive emissions balance. Vegetable cooking oils, like those used for deep-frying, are climate-neutral because when they are used, they only release as much CO₂ as had been previously absorbed from the atmosphere by the plants they came from for their growth. This zero-sum result equates to carbon neutrality.
Used cooking oil, which would otherwise be disposed of as waste, is recycled after being used in canteen kitchens or other large-scale foodservice operations and then converted into fuel via a chemical process. The reaction of waste cooking oil with methanol produces fatty acid methyl ester (AKA biodiesel). The low-emission fuel is then mixed with conventional fuel (heavy fuel oil), accounting for up to 30 per cent of the final blend. Compared to pure heavy fuel oil, this mixture reduces greenhouse gas emissions by up to 26 per cent. In 2022, we purchased more than 120,000 tonnes of biofuel to offer our customers more sustainable ocean transports and, ultimately, to assist them in improving their carbon footprint, too. Our first partnerships, such as our collaboration with DHL Global Forwarding since July 2022, have got off to a successful start. Biofuels will be used to ship an initial 18,000 TEU of DHL’s ocean freight volume, which will reduce CO₂ emissions by 14,000 tonnes. A similar agreement was made soon thereafter with Bolloré Logistics, which saved CO₂ emissions of roughly 1,500 tonnes by the end of 2022. In addition to the polluting emissions directly resulting from ship operation, the upstream emissions from the production, transportation and distribution of the fuel were also factored in when calculating the savings.
More collaborations followed, such as with the digital freight forwarder Forto and, most recently, with Nestlé, the world’s largest food and beverage maker. Since February 2023, the group’s beverage division has shipped 14,000 TEU of its cargo volume on routes to the US, Canada and Mexico using the sustainable fuel In addition, the group’s Nespresso operating unit uses this transport solution for importing and exporting coffee.
Moving away from fossil fuels is the way to a climate-neutral future. Our goal is to reduce the intensity of CO₂ emissions of our entire fleet by 30 per cent by 2030 and to be climate- neutral by 2045. Future alternative fuels and, of course, new ship construction will play a crucial role in achieving our ambitious sustainability goals. Using dual-fuel engines equipped to operate using conventional as well as alternative fuels opens up possible fields of application. We have ordered a dozen newbuildings with dual-fuel propulsion, the first of which is scheduled to enter into service this summer.
We are doing what is possible to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. But what is possible still strongly depend on the availability of biofuels and the trade route. At present, our fleet is mainly bunkering biofuels in Rotterdam, and it has also been doing so in Singapore since the summer of 2022. The need for more ports where we can bunker biofuels, including in the Mediterranean, in China and on the US East Coast, is great. Since the refineries’ delivery capacities are limited, we have concluded volume contracts.
Biofuels are an important element in our decarbonisation strategy. On top of our existing partnerships, we want to enable more customers to have their goods transported by sea using alternative fuels so as to make their supply chains more sustainable. To this end, we will make shipping with biofuel a bookable option available worldwide before the end of this year.
Have you already heard from our Ship Green offer?
You can now directly book a climate-friendly shipment via the self-service tool in our Online Business Suite - tailored to your requirements. Simply add Ship Green to your Hapag-Lloyd booking, and avoid 25%, 50%, or 100% of the emissions on the ocean leg of your container transport.
You can read more about the new solution here.