NYK is partnering Singapore’s Global Centre for Maritime Decarbonisation to perform long-term biofuel trials on a coastal car carrier, to see how the fuel affects engine maintenance.

In the six-month trial, Project Lotus, an unidentified vessel will use a blend of 24% fatty acid methyl esters (FAME) with very low-sulphur fuel oil to determine its impact on engine and fuel supply system performance.

FAME is a well-used biofuel in other sectors and is made from sources such as used cooking oil and palm oil mill effluent.

Biofuel supplies have been increasing in hubs such as Singapore and Rotterdam. Volumes reached about 1m tonnes in 2023, but this represents only 1.7% of bunker sales, according to the centre.

Shipping companies have already been using biofuels, as well as investing in biofuel producers.

Japanese shipowner NYK has been involved in previous trials; Copenhagen-listed Norden has invested in MASH Makes, a company turning cashew nut shells into biofuels; and Hoegh Autoliners has been blending in biofuels from Varo Energy.

Project Lotus will enable researchers to constantly monitor biofuel conditions and the condition of the engine’s lubricating oils. FAME is a sensitive fuel susceptible to degradation and microbial growth, which can increase corrosion or clog fuel systems, causing valve failures, leading to increased maintenance and care.

The partners said a lot of the research into the use of biofuels as a future fuel has focused on the combustion characteristics, not on engine performance.

The project will also feed data into an upcoming revision of the ISO standard for distillate fuels, ISO 8217, which includes specifications for biofuels up to a 100% blend.

Biofuels are regarded as a relatively simple “drop-in” to lower the greenhouse gas emissions from vessels from a life cycle perspective.

They can be seen as zero emission, allowing operators that use them in vessels to achieve new efficiency and emissions standards being set by the European Union and the International Maritime Organization.