Synthetic fuels: IBIA helps MEPC find way forward

As the IMO focuses on ways to reduce GHG emissions, existing regulations have come under scrutiny for issues that may hinder progress, in particular a requirement in MARPOL Annex VI that fuels other than regular oil-based fuels must not cause an increase in NOx emissions. The 79th session of the Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC 79) heard examples of this, one of which was MEPC 79/7/9 from EUROMOT.

It proposed amendment to the Unified Interpretation to MARPOL Annex VI (more info on this link) set out in circular MEPC.1/Circ.795/Rev.6, to include synthetic drop-in fuels, belonging to the group of RFNBOs (renewable fuels of non-biological origin).

The subject was discussed in a working group (WG) during MEPC 79, where a majority of delegations supported the proposal, highlighting that synthetic fuels were of higher purity than most biofuels and thus lead to better NOx performance. Several other delegations expressed concerns regarding the lack of clarity on the scope of definition of ʺRFNBOsʺ and the lack of underlying data to justify the need for amending the unified interpretation.

IBIA told the working group:

We support the proposal in the paper in principle, but also understand that some have reservations about how these fuels are defined – what exactly is covered by RFNBOs.

We would like to point out that the ISO 8217 standard for marine fuels, which covers regular oil-based fuels says that the term “fuels” is currently used to include the following:

— hydrocarbons from petroleum crude oil, oil sands and shale;

— hydrocarbons from synthetic or renewable sources, similar in composition to petroleum distillate fuels;

— blends of the above with a fatty acid methyl ester(s) (FAME) component where permitted.

The type of fuels EUROMOT describes would therefore fall under the definition of oil-based fuel as long as they are similar in composition to petroleum distillate fuels.

In ensuing discussions, IBIA also pointed out that while synthetic fuels are covered within the scope of ISO 8217:2017, regulation 18.3 of MARPOL Annex VI is largely reflective of the 2005 version of ISO 8217 where “synthetic or renewable sources” were not included in the scope.

Following discussion, the WG agreed to amend the proposal set out in document MEPC 79/7/9 to refer to ʺsynthetic fuelsʺ instead of ʺRFNBOsʺ and to include a definition of synthetic fuels originating from the ISO 8217:2017 standard, as follows: ʺFor the purposes of this interpretation, a synthetic fuel is a fuel oil from synthetic or renewable sources similar in composition to petroleum distillate fuelsʺ.

The extension of the Unified Interpretation (UI) to include synthetic fuels within its scope was approved by the plenary, and MEPC.1/Circ.795/Rev.7 will be published to reflect the change.

This confirms that the Unified Interpretation of Regulation 18.3 of MARPOL Annex VI related to NOx emissions when using biofuels should also be applicable for fuels with a synthetic fuel content of up to 30%.

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