Jul 2023

RRS Sir David Attenborough to run on Hydrogenate Vegetable Oil

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British Antarctic Survey (BAS) is using Hydrotreated Vegetable Oil (HVO) for the first time on the RRS Sir David Attenborough, as an alternative to conventional diesel fuel, as part of a trial to reduce carbon emissions. HVO has the potential to reduce carbon emissions by up to 94% compared to conventional diesel fuel.

The trial starting today of HVO on the RRS Sir David Attenborough is part of a programme of work to help reach net zero emissions by 2040, in line with ambitious targets set by BAS’s parent body, UK Research and Innovation. BAS is a research institute of the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC).  Emissions from shipping activities account for approximately 60% of the carbon footprint of BAS and therefore reducing these emissions is a key part of the organisation’s strategic net zero delivery plan.

Professor Dame Jane Francis, Director of British Antarctic Survey says:

“As we enter Net Zero week, it is pertinent that we are investigating the use of low-carbon fuels to decarbonise our marine operations. Using sustainably sourced Hydrotreated Vegetable Oil (HVO), the trials will explore the ability to achieve short term reductions in carbon emissions without impacting on scientific capability.

Our new science strategy — Polar Science for a Sustainable Planet — is designed to deliver science within the net zero carbon commitments for the next decade and it is essential that we continue to decarbonise our marine operations.”

The RRS Sir David Attenborough is currently sailing off the coast of Scotland and scientists this summer will be on board the ship testing the alternative fuel, moon pool, the workboat Erebus and coring equipment, before heading back to Antarctica for its first commissioned science season.

Careful consideration is being given to the sustainability and availability of HVO as well as the cost, logistical and emissions implications of using this new fuel source. This includes engagement with potential suppliers, and the International Sustainability and Carbon Certification (ISCC) initiative, to ensure the sustainability of HVO feedstocks.

A large ship and a digital projection of it
A Digital Twin of the RRS Sir David Attenborough (SDA) to reduce carbon emission

The fuel trials are part of a wider programme focusing on marine decarbonisation. Other projects include using new technology to investigate science with minimal impact on the environment, such as fleets of underwater vehicles and marine robotics. BAS will also be using artificial intelligence, and sophisticated numerical models to understand environmental data. Investment is being made in technology to improve ship route planning as well as tools to embed carbon considerations into marine planning and decision-making processes.

Following the 2023 trials, NERC and BAS will consider whether HVO should be adopted for wider ship operations. In addition, outputs from the trials will be shared with other marine operators and regulators to support the wider shipping industry on its journey to net zero.

About the RRS Sir David Attenborough

RRS Sir David Attenborough is a one-of-a-kind polar research ship that is set to transform the UK’s polar research capability. A floating laboratory, the ship will enable world-leading research in Antarctica and the Arctic over the next 30 years, allowing scientists to investigate the important issues we face as a society, including climate change, future sea-level rise and threats to marine biodiversity.

Britain’s new polar ship was commissioned by UKRI-NERC, funded by BEIS (the government department now known as DSIT) and is operated by British Antarctic Survey. The ship continues the UK’s long tradition of polar exploration and its position as a world leader in polar science.