Biodiesel, renewable diesel play important roles in BC Ferries’ path to net zero
BC Ferries has removed the equivalent of nearly 3,000 cars from the road over the past year and did so without altering a single sailing, or the customer experience.
The key to the company’s success is in its recently released 2022 BC Ferries Clean Futures Plan.
Ninety-eight percent of BC Ferries’ greenhouse-gas (GHG) emissions comes from the combustion of fuels by vessels, so to reduce that footprint the company needs to move customers in a more environmentally positive manner.
“Normally we run our fleet on ultra-low sulfur diesel that contains at least 5 percent biodiesel (B5),” said Frank Camaraire, the director of climate-change policy for BC Ferries. “But we wanted to accelerate our goal to meet emissions targets and embrace our environmental responsibility, so we seized an opportunity to do both.”
The most high-profile examples in the evolution of ferry travel are the six hybrid battery-electric Island Class ferries, the two LNG Spirit Class ships, and the four LNG Salish Class vessels.
Less visible examples of BC Ferries’ greening of the fleet are the Queen of Oak Bay and Queen of Surrey.
The 41-year-old Queen of Oak Bay has a secret ingredient making her more environmentally friendly—20 percent biodiesel (B20).
Biodiesel is a clean-burning diesel replacement made from vegetable oils or animal fats that can be used in existing diesel engines.
When the time came for BC Ferries to renew its fuel agreement with Parkland Corp., the company offered an innovative, new fuel mixture.
“Through our Burnaby Refinery, Parkland has been a leader in the production of low-carbon fuels since 2017,” said Ryan Krogmeier, Parkland’s senior vice president of refining, supply, trading and health, safety and environment. “Increasingly, our commercial customers are looking for ways to decrease their carbon emissions. Driven by our innovative practices, we’re able to provide them with the lower-carbon fuels they desire. We’re thrilled to be extending our longstanding partnership with BC Ferries, and to be able to significantly lower the carbon intensity of the fuels they depend on.”
Running rich on biofuel presented some key findings early on.
“We started the transition in October 2021,” said Babak Motamedi, captain of the Queen of Oak Bay. “During this time my colleagues and I have not seen any difference in operation of the machineries and propulsion system with regards to ship’s speed and maneuvering characteristics.”
While the B20 conversion was taking place on the Queen of Oak Bay, the Queen of Surrey has been undergoing a similar trial using renewable diesel. It comes from a similar feedstock as biodiesel but undergoes a different process.
“Renewable diesel has fantastic properties, and it will play an integral role through the energy transition as society strives to lower emissions,” Krogmeier said. “Much like coprocessed fuels, renewable diesel is chemically identical to conventional diesel and can be dropped into existing systems without any modifications. In addition to its obvious economic benefits, renewable diesel reduces GHG emissions by up to 75 percent.”
The two trials have eliminated 13,200 metric tons of GHG emissions from October 2021 through June 2022. That’s similar to removing 2,800 cars from the road for an entire year with far more ambitious goals on the horizon.
“We are preparing to transition all of our Metro Vancouver-based vessels that currently use conventional diesel fuel to B20 over the next year while exploring opportunities to increase the biodiesel content all the way up to 100 percent (B100),” Camaraire said.
The new-fuel frontier is exciting and includes possibilities with renewable natural gas, green methanol, and electricity.
However, BC Ferries knows that new-fuel technology isn’t the only avenue to get to net zero.
Fuel is one of five areas of action identified in the Clean Futures Plan:
Renewable and alternate fuels
The 2030 target for BC Ferries is to reduce the company’s 2008 GHG emissions by at least 27 percent while addressing the demands of a growing population calling for increased service. “There is no lack of ambition to meet our goals,” Camaraire said. “It’s about how we get there. That’s where the five areas of action come in to play, and by applying innovation and technical solutions to each area, we are creating the momentum that sails us to a net-zero horizon.”
In 2022, BC Ferries’ GHG emissions were 5 percent below 2008 baseline levels.
In 2021, BC Ferries was honored with two environmental awards for lowering emissions: The Blue Circle Award by the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority, and the Green Wave Award by the Prince Rupert Port Authority.
In 2014, BC Ferries joined Green Marine, a voluntary environmental-certification program for the North American marine-transportation industry.