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Fuelling the journey to net zero

In July, MEPC80 agreed a new GHG strategy with a destination of net zero GHG emissions by, or around, 2050. But will the fuels be ready and what does ‘net zero’ actually mean?


TO support the IMO’s revised GHG strategy, suppliers are planning how they will meet the demands for lower GHG emission fuels and the associated supply infrastructure on the road to 2050. That might seem a long way off, but in this podcast, two experts from ExxonMobil explain that policies and technologies are both needed.

Christophe Pouts is ExxonMobil’s Global Regulatory Development Advisor. He describes balancing the dual tasks of strengthening energy supply security, while reducing GHG emissions, as a challenge that merits a name: ExxonMobil calls it the “and” equation.

His colleague, Ken Kar, senior engineer at ExxonMobil, has extensive experience of fuels development. It’s his job to help create new lower GHG emission formulations, but that is not enough on its own: infrastructure, distribution networks and new technologies will be needed to increase the availability and supply of alternative fuels. For that to happen, “we need industry collaboration and appropriate policy,” he believes.

This is not the first time the maritime industry has had to come to terms with new fuel requirements, but Pouts is wary of drawing direct parallels with the IMO’s 2020 low-sulphur regulations, although he tells the podcast that there are some lessons that can be learnt from that experience. It was, he believes, “a great achievement that demonstrates stakeholders’ experience and work to support improvements in international shipping”.

But when it comes to tackling overall GHG emissions, he sees this as a global and societal task. He illustrates this with insights from ExxonMobil’s 2023 Global Outlook analysis, which links energy demand to human development. By 2050, the population will have significantly grown and global GDP will have doubled, leading to big increases in the demand for energy. Addressing this will require new thinking and a coordinated effort from all stakeholders.

Technology developments are critical to help mitigate the impact of the expected competition between sectors for lower GHG emissions fuels. Different types of fuels containing biomass or other sources of CO2, potentially produced from renewable electricity, could very well coexist in future, predicts Kar.

Next generation biofuels could help meeting the IMO’s net-zero level of ambition because the emissions from their combustion could be offset by the emissions absorbed by the bio component while it grew. “Net zero [is achieved] when anthropogenic GHG emissions to the atmosphere are balanced by anthropogenic removals,” he explains.

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