NERC trials alternative fuel on Royal Research Ship

  • This summer the National Oceanography Centre (NOC) is evaluating the use of Hydrotreated Vegetable Oil (HVO) for the first time on the RRS James Cook, as an alternative fuel option to conventional marine gas oil (MGO)

The trial on the RRS James Cook, which is operated by NOC on behalf of the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), is part of a collaborative endeavour between NERC and NOC to reduce the carbon emissions of marine science operations. HVO offers a potential short-term option to reduce carbon emissions from research vessels, without impacting on scientific capability, whilst longer- term solutions are also developed.

As part of the trial, which will support the ambitions of NERC to reach ‘net-zero’ operational carbon emissions in line with ambitious targets set by its parent body, UKRI, careful consideration is being given to the sustainability and availability of HVO as well as the cost, logistical and emissions implications of this alternative fuel source. This includes engagement with potential suppliers and manufacturers of HVO, as well as independent regulatory bodies such as the International Sustainability and Carbon Certification (ISCC) initiative, to develop robust assurance processes for procuring HVO from sustainable sources.

With marine infrastructure accounting for over 70% of NERC’s carbon footprint in 2022/23, the NOC Marine Carbon Project forms a crucial part of wider marine decarbonisation work being led by NERC. Other actions include investigating options to upgrade ship propulsion systems to increase efficiency, modifying infrastructure to facilitate renewable shore power supplies, and investing in tools to embed carbon considerations into marine planning and decision-making processes. In addition, the Future Marine Research Infrastructure (FMRI) programme is driving innovation which delivers marine research in low carbon ways – utilising NOC’s fleet of underwater autonomous vehicles and ocean robots.

Following the 2023 fuel trial, NERC and NOC will consider whether HVO should be adopted for wider ship operations, continually reviewing emerging evidence relating to supply chains and market fluctuations. In addition, outputs from the trial will be shared with other marine operators and regulators to support the wider shipping industry on its journey to net zero.

About the RRS James Cook

The RRS James Cook (2006) and the RRS Discovery (2013) are operated by NOC on behalf of NERC. They conduct oceanic exploration around the world, undertaking multidisciplinary marine science to unlock the mysteries of the deep ocean.

Most recently the RRS James Cook supported long-term observations at the Porcupine Abyssal Plain Sustained Observatory. Following a summer refit period and trials the RRS James Cook will continue its research expeditions to some of Earth’s most challenging environments, from tropical oceans to the edge of ice sheets.

Both research ships use state-of-the-art technologies such as autonomous underwater vehicles, including NOC’s Autosub Long Range (ALR) called Boaty McBoatface. The ocean robot fleet operated by NOC is one of the most capable in the world and support the ships’ scientific research with environmentally-friendly marine observation.