Superyacht and megayacht sustainability under scrutiny

by | 22nd August 2023 | Ship & Boat International - News, Recreational

Home News Superyacht and megayacht sustainability under scrutiny

Azimut|Benetti Group has taken the plunge into biofuels

It’s estimated that a superyacht with a helipad, submersible toys, swimming pools and a permanent crew presence will pump 7,020tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere each year: more than 1,500 times that of a typical family car. While the superyacht sector may be taking sustainability more seriously than it has done previously, it still risks falling short of critical targets due to insufficient data and legislation, Spanish yacht repair/refit specialist MB92 Group has claimed.

For its report A Joint Effort for the Oceans – Driving Sustainability Across the Supply Chain, MB92 Group surveyed various companies within its supply network. The company writes: “44% of respondents consider the data available to support sustainable development either insufficient or non-existent. In addition, only 39% of the companies surveyed had a mechanism in place to measure their impact, and just 14% a mechanism to evaluate that of their own suppliers.”

This feedback prompted MB92 Group CEO Jean-Marc Bolinger to state that today’s yachting industry faces “a daunting challenge”, and could even be at risk of “disappearing” unless it maps out a viable path towards sustainability. One serious hurdle, the report suggests, is “a lack of reliable data to judge the credentials of alternative products and solutions” for the global superyacht fleet. This has made it difficult for some captains to convince key decision-makers to pursue a sustainable approach, despite increasing public and press scrutiny, the report argues.

MB92 Group says that owners should consider modifying existing diesel engines to run on clean fuels – one example being hydrogenated vegetable oil (HVO) – to curb CO2 and PM emissions. Switching isn’t always straightforward, though. As fuel and lubes supplier Peninsula Yacht Services points out: “New power distribution/propulsion systems that run on evolving greener fuels are a step in the right direction, yet they don’t account for the staggering number of yachts already in operation that aren’t compatible with such solutions. There are still many differences of opinion when it comes to the topic of sustainable marine fuel, which is why around 99.9% of yachts are using diesel as their primary fuel.”

Peninsula adds that owners and operators must consider the pros and cons of each alt-fuel. Taking fatty acid methyl ester (FAME), for example, the company explains: “Using FAME can result in reduced GHG and sulphur emissions [but] comes with complications when used on a yacht: this alternative has an affinity for water, and therefore a higher risk of microbial growth.” Other risks include the likelihood of oxidisation, thus limiting long-term storage options, and the fact that FAME has a different chemical composition to conventional diesel, making it difficult to simply use as a ‘drop-in’ fuel.

Alternatively, HVO has the same chemical composition as diesel, and can be blended with conventional gas oils, or even burned ‘neat’. “While HVO also has much better resilience when stored, single-season yachts worried about long periods of inactivity can still switch back to conventional diesel when the yacht is dormant through the winter,” Peninsula says. However, the group warns, users should be prepared for escalating costs in the coming years as demand for HVO increases.

Motoryacht builder Azimut|Benetti Group is about to find out for itself, having signed an agreement with Eni Sustainable Mobility for the supply and use of the latter’s HVOlution biofuel. The builder is now phasing in HVOlution as a replacement for the fossil fuels typically used by the Azimut and Benetti brands during newbuild sea trials.  HVOlution is produced using waste raw materials, vegetable residues and “oils generated from crops that do not compete with the food chain”, Eni says.

According to the criteria established by Directive (EU) 2018/2001 of the European Parliament (aka the Renewable Energy Directive, or ‘RED II’), HVOlution achieved a reduction of between 60-90% in CO2-equivalent emissions across the logistics and production chain in 2022, compared to the benchmark fossil-based fuel blend. This variance in reduction percentage will depend on the raw materials used for the biofuel’s production.

Further, Azimut|Benetti Group and Eni plan to build up a workable distribution network for HVOlution, to provide vessel operators with better access to the alt-fuel. “In the initial phase involving bunkering operations, the plan will target Azimut|Benetti Group marinas as the first points of supply for private individuals in Italy,” the yacht builder says.

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