In Depth: New Rules on the Horizon - A Round Up of Upcoming Emissions Regulations

Emissions regulations have a big impact on the maritime industry. What is coming and are the new standards workable for everybody?

Looking back at the last couple of years, the maritime sector has witnessed some definite changes concerning certain types of ship emissions. The most notable example of this was the introduction of the Sulphur Emission Control Areas (SECA).

However, the realm of international maritime regulations is in constant development. Reflecting this are the most recent agreements made at the Marine Environment Protection Committee meeting which took place at the International Maritime Organization (IMO) in London in October 2016.

Globally, there is a lot of focus on the issue of CO2, says Sander den Heijer, Netherlands Maritime Technology Sector Manager: “After the Paris Climate Agreement, all eyes have been on the maritime and aviation sectors since they were not included in the agreement. And, for the maritime sector in particular, looking to see what the IMO would do to tackle the CO2 issue.”

As yet, though, no clear answers have been put forward as to how to reduce CO2 emissions from the shipping sector. “This is the biggest challenge facing the maritime industry, but it is also one of the hardest things to regulate - because every time you burn fuel, you generate CO2”, says Den Heijer.

From an IMO perspective, this is being looked into. For example, during the MEPC meeting, an agreement was made that the maritime industry will start monitoring fuel use and thereby CO2 emissions. “The IMO will start discussions on how to regulate these emissions in 2023. In other words; first of all they need to know what they are talking about. And then they need to see what they can do about it.”

SOx Go Global

IMO will start discussions on how to regulate emissions

On the subject of sulphur oxides - more commonly known in the industry as SOx - legislation for the Baltic and North Seas in the form of Sulphur Emissions Control Areas (SECA) has been in force since January 2015, limiting the amount of sulphur in emissions to 0.1 per cent. This trend is set to continue with the global sulphur cap to be lowered. Den Heijer explains: “The MEPC meeting decided on new agreements concerning global emissions - the outcome being that from 2020 global sulphur emissions will be limited to 0.5 per cent.”

“From an industry perspective - for the shipyards and the equipment manufacturers - there will be a potential rise in demand for scrubbers. This will be an opportunity for our side of the industry. However, the questions remains whether the oil refineries will be able to cope with the increased demand of low sulphur fuels.”


The MEPC meeting also made agreements regarding nitrogen emissions: from 2021, the North and Baltic Seas will be designated as Nitrogen Emission Control Areas (NECAs) where stricter emissions limits for nitrogen oxides (NOx) will be enforced. While the European NECA will cover the same geographical area as the SECA, there is an important distinction to be made between the two. “The big difference is that the SECA is valid for all vessels sailing in the area, and the NECA will apply to new build vessels only.”

A significant point for Dutch shipbuilders and repair yards is that the small print of the new NECA regulation allows the building of ships that will be operated outside the NECA - something that the Dutch industry often accomplishes. “We as Netherlands Maritime Technology put a lot of effort in it to get an exemption to continue building and repairing these high added value ships and we are very happy to see the IMO decided to meet our wish.”

Problematic Black Ice

Ship emissions also contain suspended particles of various sizes; this is known as Particulate Matter (PM). Ranging in size from coarse (from 2.5 to 10 µm), fine (up to 2.5 µm) and ultrafine particles (smaller than 0.1 µm), PM regulations are not yet agreed upon. “This is one of the emissions that is being looked at carefully within the IMO, but there is not a lot to report - with the exception of Black Carbon.”

Black Carbon is a fine component of PM and its most problematic environmental characteristic is its colour. “In Arctic areas, Black Carbon emissions eventually fall onto the ice, colouring it black. The black ice then absorbs more of the sun’s energy and then melts faster. This really speeds up the melting of the ice caps.” The outcome of other IMO meetings was that the Black Carbon dossier is still in the early stages: “While there seems to be an agreement about what the problem is and about how black carbon is actually defined, discussions on regulating black carbon continue slowly.”

Industry Feedback

In short, owners and operators throughout the industry have to comply with a variety of regulations that are laid down by regulatory bodies such as the IMO and the European Commission. What happens when a particular sector has doubts about the success of proposed legislation? The response of the European Barge Union (EBU) and the Dutch Inland Shipping Trade Association (CBRB) to the European Commission’s ‘Non Road Mobile Machinery’ (NRMM) regulation is one such example.

The NRMM regulation, focusing on emissions, states that new inland waterway engines have to meet its new criteria. For engines with a power output of less than 300 kilowatt, this is applicable from January 2019, and for engines with a power output greater than 300 kilowatt, from January 2020.

According to CBRB Managing Director Robert Kasteel, NRMM compliance will be challenging, especially regarding permitted Particulate Matter and Particulate Number levels. “Our position is now caught between the Regulatory Commission who are saying, ‘These are the rules,’ and the engine manufacturers who are uncertain whether, technically speaking, it will be possible to build compliant engines in the first place.”

EBU Environmental Coordinator Jan Vogelaar concurs: “There is so much uncertainty, and that is the most frustrating part for us as a sector. We are caught between a rock and a hard place.” One reason behind this uncertainty is that the European inland shipping sector is relatively small. “Not just because there are less inland shipping vessels built every year than road trucks, for example. But also because trucks are replaced every seven years. Whereas an inland shipping vessel and its engine have a very long operational life cycle.”

Impact on LNG?

From an environmental perspective, the new regulations will also have repercussions, according to Vogelaar: “What it means for the introduction of LNG as fuel is also uncertain because of the high investment and the low oil price.” Adding to the EBU’s frustration is the comparison to America EPA standards: “The advantage of this system is that entering this standard leads directly up to 80 per cent less emissions compared to the current CCRII standard,” explains Vogelaar. “And these engines are developed on a more global scale and will be available in 2018.” Because the European regulations are stricter, they pose a hurdle for the engine manufacturers to meet these new standards.

With multiple issues involved, this situation is certainly an interesting one. From now until January 2020, the CBRB and EBU will be communicating with members and suppliers to keep a close eye on future developments.

Tom Scott

This article was previously published in Maritime Holland edition #7– 2016


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