Australia’s first grains ship powered partially by biofuel slashed emissions by 14 per cent

Headshot of Cally Dupe
Cally DupeCountryman
CBH chief marketing and trading officer Jason Craig,  CBH director and Kojonup farmer Helen Woodhams, CBH barley trading manager Drew Robertson, and CBH Albany Port Terminal head of chartering Pia Rosenkranz.
Camera IconCBH chief marketing and trading officer Jason Craig, CBH director and Kojonup farmer Helen Woodhams, CBH barley trading manager Drew Robertson, and CBH Albany Port Terminal head of chartering Pia Rosenkranz. Credit: Cally Dupe/Countryman

The world’s first grains ship powered partially by vegetable oil produced 14 per cent fewer emissions — compared to conventional fossil fuels — during its 14-day journey from Albany to Vietnam, with no impact on the speed of the vessel or its engine performance.

CBH Group — Australia’s biggest grain exporter — partnered with dry bulk carrier Oldendorff Carriers to conduct the landmark trial, shipping about 30,000 tonnes of WA-grown barley from CBH’s Albany Grains Terminal on January 9.

About 20 per cent of the fuel used to power the ship was a biofuel blend, made largely from recycled cooking oils.

The blend was created by oil and gas multinational BP, which has set a goal of being a net zero company by 2050 and has been trialling the mix in product tankers sailing from Rotterdam to West Africa.

Oldendorff’s ship Edwine, traditionally a global log carrier, was repurposed for its maiden grain journey from Albany on January 9 before arriving at Cai Mep Port on January 23.

During the voyage, the ship produced 14 per cent less greenhouse gas emissions than a traditional journey powered by conventional fossil fuels and did not cause any imposition to the engine’s speed or performance.

While the result was 1 per cent lower than the anticipated 15 per cent emissions reduction, CBH has deemed the trial a success and said it could pave the way for future journeys powered by biofuel blends.

CBH chief marketing and trading officer Jason Craig said reducing emissions along the supply chain was a massive task, and the trial had “gathered valuable information” to shape efforts to “de-carboninse the shipping industry”.

Global shipping accounts for about three per cent of global carbon emissions but the sector is considered hard to decarbonise due to a lack of alternatives to marine fuel.

“This trial is one way we are making sure we can continue to meet the increasing market demand for sustainable grain and keep our WA growers competitive,” Mr Craig said.

He said it was important to note the 30,000 tonnes of malt barley was certified through CBH’s International Sustainability and Carbon Certification scheme, which aims to ensure the crop is sustainably produced and greenhouse gas emission reduction standards are met.

CBH’s marketing and trading division sold the barley to Interflour Group’s Intermalt facility at Cai Mep Port — south east of Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam — with the expectation at least some of the shipment will be purchased by popular beer company Heineken.

The global beer juggernaut has set an ambitious target of having a carbon neutral value chain by 2040, which Mr Craig said showed increased demand for lower-emissions grain.

CBH implemented the ISCC scheme in 2010 to sell Australian canola into the European Union biofuel market and to meet the customer preference for sustainably-grown canola.

In October 2019, it extended the program to develop a sustainable malting barley option for customers before sending its first ISCC-certified barley shipment in April 2020.

Oldendorff Carriers Melbourne managing director Ben Harper said given the reduced carbon input, reduced carbon emissions and the inspection of the engine equipment, it could be “concluded that the voyage was more efficient than a similar voyage fully powered by fossil fuels”.

CBH director Helen Woodhams, who farms at Kojonup, was at the port for the ship’s loading and said there was a clear indication that the world wanted both the shipping and grains industries to reduce emissions.

“Someone needs to take the first step, and it is great to see us (CBH) there at the forefront,” she said.

“We really want to look after and protect our industry and environments and communities we operate in.

“It is important we keep pace because the world is demanding it.”

Ahead of the journey, Oldendorff Carriers WA port captain Gautam Malhotra said the trial measured how the vessel engine responded to the biofuel, its speed and efficiency, and the emissions produced.

“We can see the future involving, this as an alternative to normal fuel,” he said.

“The shipping industry is a big industry and there is a lot of fuel being consumed every day.”

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