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Blue ocean, green fuel

With so many of the goods transported around the world carried by ocean-going cargo ships, addressing ways to reduce the sector’s carbon footprint is an urgent priority. A new DHL Global Forwarding biofuel solution is starting to make waves.

Sustainable Fuels for Logistics

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Buzzing with activity

It’s a familiar site at any major port around the world: massive ships tied to the docks, swinging cranes hoisting cargo containers through the air before stacking them feather-light on deck, and a hustling and bustling crew preparing to weigh anchor.

Behind the scenes, technology has eliminated the stacks of paperwork: customs declarations and cargo manifests are often digitized; route planning and loading procedures are efficiently planned by algorithms. Inside each cargo container you find even more innovation – DHL’s intelligent less-than-container load (LCL) shipping options maximize cargo space and offer customers a wide degree of flexibility.

In short, modern ocean cargo shipping is cutting-edge logistics.

However, there is one exception: the ships are powered by an outdated fuel – one that emits high levels of carbon and has a negative impact on the environment. But that is starting to change.


Plant power at sea

Beginning in January 2021, DHL will neutralize the carbon emissions of all LCL shipments through the use of maritime biofuels.

The diesel engines propelling ocean shipping vessels are usually powered by what is known as heavy fuel oil (HFO), a particularly crude form of oil with high levels of carbon emissions. DHL’s new policy replaces HFO with sustainable marine biofuel onboard preselected container vessels carrying LCL cargo.

As simple as it sounds, switching to marine biofuel involves more than switching pumps at the petrol station. "Drop-in" fuels must be used to avoid modifying the engine. Biofuels can be "dropped-in" to the existing diesel engines and operated normally. Non-drop-in fuels require engines that have been built or modified to accept them.

Another consideration when using biofuels is how they are sourced. DHL’s policy is that plant-based biofuels must be produced sustainably and in a way that does not change land use. For example, biofuel production may not compete with other land use needs, such as food production. Using biofuels made from plant waste products ensures that these are the cleanest and most sustainable biofuels currently available on the market.

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Working together

By using marine biofuels, DHL is making an important contribution to minimize ocean freight’s impact on the environment. In addition, customers making use of the services – at no additional charge – can reduce the carbon footprint of their business.

Carbon-neutral LCL shipments that utilize biofuels are helping business and shipping companies alike comply with regulations implemented by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) at the beginning of 2020 aimed at reducing harmful sulfur oxide emissions in ocean shipping. One of the IMO’s recommendations for hitting the target – which would reduce sulfur oxide emissions from ships by 77 percent by 2025 – is to use alternate sources of fuel.

Smooth sailing

DHL’s efforts move beyond implementing marine biofuels in LCL shipments. The GoGreen carrier evaluation program gives freight forwarders the option of prioritizing carriers with a strong environmental performance. In addition to our own efforts to “Burn Less, Burn Clean,” we encourage transport subcontractors to operate low-emission vehicles. It’s our way of adding a little green to the deep blue sea.

Published: October 2020

Ocean Freight

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