Future fuels: new cargoes, same expertise

This article is from Stolten – June 2022

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How will Stolt Tank Containers’ (STC) business change in response to the shift to new fuels for a decarbonised future? In many ways, but two in particular.

First, there will be new types of bulk liquids requiring transport, while some traditional cargoes may be eliminated entirely. Second, STC must take steps to reduce the environmental impact of its own operations.

Debate and uncertainty continue around the ‘best’ direction to take in the transport and logistics industries. However, STC remains sure of one thing: its core business strategy and unique ability to adapt: “We provide transportation services for bulk liquids. Whatever the cargo, we are confident that, with the proper review, oversight and solution design, we can safely handle and store it,” says Greg Vinson, Business Development Manager at STC in Houston, US (pictured).

“In the case of new products, we complete a risk analysis and we tailor our solutions and services to address the findings. The skills, training and experience of our team will be crucial as new fuels are introduced. While it might seem that everything is changing very quickly, the shift in demands on transportation, handling and execution will be more progressive, requiring us to continually adapt to incremental changes.”

STC mainly moves chemicals, lubricants, food grade products and additives. It is less common for traditional fuels to be transported in ISO tanks. The exception is the transport of aviation fuel for specialised applications.

As the progression towards decarbonisation gathers pace, biofuels are attracting a lot of attention, not least because engines using traditional fuels can also run on these alternatives, with little impact on performance.

A headstart on future fuels

STC – and sister companies Stolt Tankers and Stolthaven Terminals – already move and store large volumes of used cooking oil (UCO), which stands them in good stead for the transition to future fuels, in particular, for customers looking to capitalise on a multimode, end-to-end bulk solution. Global UCO production could be up to 28 million metric tonnes by 2030, with China being the largest producer globally, representing 29% of the supply during 20211.

“This is a huge market, and we are already involved in moving many of the raw materials that will end up in sustainable fuels,” says Vinson. “Used cooking oil is collected from homes and restaurants, processed, cleaned, filtered and converted to hydrotreated vegetable oil (HVO) for use as fuel in aircraft, cars and trains.”

STC also handles and transports waste oils that can be processed, filtered, bleached, purified and reused as industrial fuels, extending the life of these waste hydrocarbons.

Electrification offers additional opportunities for STC. “The most common rechargeable batteries used in vehicles are lithium-ion based and these typically contain a liquid electrolyte. One state-of-the-art electrolyte containing lithium hexafluorophosphate is perfect for moving in ISO tanks,” Vinson says. “There are more liquid electrolyte and energy transfer products being developed, and we believe that many can be efficiently transported in ISO tanks, from producers directly to the battery manufacturers.”.

These materials may not be the fuels of the future themselves but will play a vital part in the move to electrification of transport modes.

“Our expertise means we can respond quickly to meet customers’ changing requirements...Across our business, we capitalise on opportunities to deliver the specialist services required." Greg Vinson, Business Development Manager, Stolt Tank Containers, Houston, US

Agile operations

Turning to STC’s own operations, these will also see changes in the coming years. In container shipping, while liquefied natural gas (LNG) is welcomed as a lower carbon option, it is seen by some as a transition fuel. Longer term, Vinson believes people are looking to move towards hydrogen, the production of which is expensive, and ammonia, which can be dangerous if not handled correctly.

And while he does not expect to see either of these transported in tank containers for large-scale consumption, there might be opportunities to move these fuels by road to remote locations that are not linked into pipeline networks.

And, to overcome the complexities of transporting pure hydrogen, there are opportunities for it to be bonded to other chemicals, known as liquid organic hydrogen carriers (LOHC), for transportation and then separated from the surrogate product at destination.

Another part of the future-fuels transition is how STC adapts its own depots for a decarbonised world. Diesel and petrol are consumed at our depots and as a responsible company we must consider alternative fuels and solutions, such as modifying our boilers to run on LNG. Just as ships and aeroplanes connect to shore power (cold ironing) facilities to reduce emissions while idle, Vinson foresees that depots and truck stops of the future will also offer emission free ‘plug in’ to power on arrival.

“At present, most truck drivers run their engines when they stop, for heating or aircon – burning fuel and generating greenhouse gas emissions. I believe that, in the future, they will shut down the engine and plug in to an electricity supply, powered by ever-greener sources and technology. How STC participates in such a grassroots application of future fuels will be an important part of our own future.”

Adaptability is key

“Our expertise means we can respond quickly to meet customers’ changing requirements,” says Vinson. “We demonstrated this ability – and our commitment to innovation through automation – during the Covid-19 pandemic, when we handled record numbers of tank containers despite the challenges of lockdowns, cancelled sailings and truck shortages.

“Across our business, we capitalise on opportunities to deliver the specialist services required. If there is a challenge, it is for all of us – our customers, our suppliers and STC – to work together to challenge the status quo, and develop and invest in new solutions that will help all participants in the supply chain to reduce our carbon footprints .

“In any case, with the largest fleet in the world, and decades of experience in delivering bespoke solutions for customers, STC is well placed to adapt quickly whatever comes our way.”

1. biofuels-news.com February 2022

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Stolten – June 2022

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