The EPA has identified pollution from ships as a contributing factor to respiratory problems and premature deaths suffered by residents of the US and Canada. As such, it is in the process of implementing stricter emissions standards for ships operating within 200 miles (321.9 km) of shore with the aim of significantly reducing emissions by the year 2020. In a development that could play into these environmental initiatives, the SeaChange Group, a US-based start-up that converts agricultural by-products into clean-burning fuel, has been awarded a patent for an eco-hybrid fuel technology shown to to reduce NOx, particulate matter and greenhouse gas emissions.

The SeaChange Group worked in collaboration with the Maine Maritime Academy to formulate a hybrid fuel technology for direct-injection engines. The solution comprises diesel and glycerol, an inexpensive, renewable by-product of the bio-diesel industry.

"International shipping has come under stringent emissions regulations and ship operators around the world are looking for drop-in fuels such as this one to reduce emissions and maintain engine power and fuel efficiency," said Dr. Richard Kimball, Director and Associate Professor of Engineering at the Marine Engine Testing and Emissions Laboratory (METEL).

In testing the diesel-glycerol hybrid fuel at METEL, the team observed a reduction of 25 to 50 percent in smoke emissions compared to an ultra-low sulfur diesel fuel at an equivalent power output. Emissions of mono-nitrogen oxides (NOx) were reduced by five to 15 percent, with the team finding a general trend in emission reductions in line with an increasing glycerol concentration.

Also corresponding to a higher concentration of glycerol in the fuel however is a lower energy density and therefore, an increase in overall engine fuel consumption.

The findings were representative of an initial proof-of-concept, and have seen the team secure funding from the Maine Technology Institute and the US Department of Transportation. The SeaChange Group and METEL will use the resources to test the technology in working vessels throughout 2014.

View gallery - 7 images