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Mærsk Group exploring use of lignin-based marine biofuels; CyclOx and B21st

With an annual fuel bill of US$7 billion for vessel operations, the Mærsk Group continually considers ways to reduce its bunker fuel consumption. Greater efficiency is the primary way of achieving this; alternative fuels are another. Mærsk Group is currently involved in two projects focused on realizing the marine fuel potential of one of the world’s most abundant and sustainable biomass resources: lignin.

Lignin already has a variety of industrial uses because of its chemical characteristics, energy content and its abundance; yet its potential as a marine diesel fuel is a relatively uncharted area, says Peter Normark Sørensen, with Mærsk Oil Trading, the Mærsk Group’s oil buying arm.

For the past 75 years, the shipping companies have used oil, but looking at the next 75 years this is likely to change. In the longer term oil is simply going to run out, so we need to start looking for alternatives. The great thing about biofuels is that they would not only secure a future fuel supply, they will also greatly reduce our CO2 and SOx emissions.

—Jacob Sterling, head of Environment and CSR, Mærsk Line

Lignin is a complex organic polymer found in plants; the more lignin there is in wood, the sturdier and stronger the wood is and the more efficiently it burns. Lignin is also released in large quantities as a residue during the production process of paper as well as advanced bio-ethanol.

Progression Industry. In February, Mærsk signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Progression Industry—a spin-off company of Eindhoven University of Technology—to develop a viable marine fuel from lignin—CyclOx—that meets stringent parameters on price, technical performance, sustainability and emissions. (Earlier post.)

CyclOx is a cyclic oxygenate (earlier post) produced by the depolymerization of lignin and represents a class of molecules which improve the fuel-air mixing process and reduce soot. Research has shown the addition of 10% CyclOx to standard diesel fuel reduces soot emissions by up to 50%.

Progression Industry is a company that develops technology in the field of fuels and automotive. WEDACS, a turbine inlet for gasoline that generates power from waste heat, is another technology Progression Industry is currently developing, in cooperation with Volvo Car Corporation, within a European development project.

The agreement between Mærsk and Progression Industry states that if Progression can produce a lignin-based fuel that meets Mærsk’s criteria then Mærsk will buy 50,000 tonnes of this fuel.

Biomass for the 21st Century. A separate 5-year, €15-million (US$19-million) project called “Biomass for the 21st Century” (B21st) is co-funded by the Danish National Advanced Technology Foundation and involves Mærsk, DONG Energy and several other companies and academic institutions.

Professor Claus Felby at the University of Copenhagen is leading that project, which is also looking at lignin as a potential marine fuel as well as other sustainable sources of biofuel with consideration for logistics and scale production challenges.

A report prepared by Pöyry Management Consulting (Deutschland) GmbH for use by A.P. Møller - Mærsk A/S, released in September 2012—“Global Biofuel Potentials For Marine Engines”—outlined the market potential for the marine fuels element of the project.


  • Zhou, L., Boot, M.D., Luijten, C.C.M., Leermakers, C.A.J., Dam, N.J. & Goey, L.P.H. de (2012). Emission performance of lignin-derived cyclic oxygenates in a heavy-duty diesel engine. SAE Technical Papers, 2012-01-1056.

  • Global Biofuel Potentials For Marine Engines (B21st report, Sep 2012)


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