Rio Tinto, bp partner in year-long trial of marine biofuels

By Becky Schultz25 May 2022

The RTM Tasman berthed for loading at Iron Ore Company of Canada’s Sept-Îles port in Quebec, as part of its first trial voyage using bp’s biofuel. (Photo: Business Wire)

Rio Tinto, a leading mining and metals company, and global lubricants supplier bp have agreed to join forces for a one-year biofuel trial to help reduce carbon emissions from Rio Tinto’s marine fleet. The trial represents one of the longest-duration marine biofuel trials to date.

Under the agreement, bp will supply Rio Tinto with marine biofuel for approximately 12 months for use in fueling the RTM Tasman vessel on a mix of Transatlantic and Atlantic-Pacific routes. The extended trial comes after the RTM Tasman’s successful journey following refueling with biofuel in Rotterdam in March 2022 for the first time. It then picked up its first load of the trial at the Iron Ore Company of Canada’s Sept-Îles port in Quebec in April. All biofuel refueling will take place at Rotterdam.

“Sustainable biofuels have the potential to be an important transition fuel on the way to net-zero marine emissions and we are pleased to be working with bp to carry out this long-term trial,” said Laure Baratgin, Rio Tinto Head of Commercial Operations. “A longer-duration trial will provide important information on the potential role and wide scale use of biofuels, and aligns with our goals to reduce marine emissions across our value chain and support efforts to decarbonize the maritime industry.”

The bp-manufactured B30 biofuel blend that is being used is composed of 30% fatty acid methyl esters (FAME) – a renewable alternative fuel (biodiesel) largely produced from recycled cooking oils and renewable oil sources – blended with very low sulphur fuel oil (VLSFO). According to bp, this blend can reduce lifecycle carbon dioxide emissions by up to 26% compared to standard marine fuel oil.

Working with bp and the ship managers Anglo Eastern, the trial will analyze a series of engine and fuel performance factors, including:

  • engine efficiency and fuel consumption
  • corrosion and degradation
  • microbial growth
  • temperature impact
  • fuel switching impacts
  • fuel stability

The trial results will help Rio Tinto study ways to reduce its carbon emissions from its marine fleet and inform its future biofuel strategy. Its objective is to reach net-zero emissions from shipping of its products to customers by 2050 and to introduce net-zero carbon vessels into its portfolio by 2030.

Rio Tinto is also accelerating the delivery of its climate commitments on shipping, and has already delivered a 30% intensity reduction on its owned and time-chartered fleet from a 2008 baseline. In addition, it is on track to meet the International Maritime Organisation’s 2030 targets of a 40% reduction in emissions five years early.

“Sustainable biofuels are important to help decarbonize the shipping industry in the near- and mid-term as we transition towards longer term net-zero solutions,” noted Sven Boss-Walker, senior vice president refining & products trading, bp. “We’re proud to be working with Rio Tinto to support their work to decarbonize. These trials are part of our ongoing efforts to help accelerate the shipping industry’s energy transition.”

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