In less than 70 days the International Maritime Organization’s 2020 sulphur cap will kick in bringing with it a number of changes in the shipping industry.
Of the various compliance solutions available on the market, exhaust gas cleaning systems (EGCS), also known as scrubbers, are ranked as a popular choice for both existing and new build vessels. The key factors behind their popularity include financial benefit, simplicity with regard to installation and a relatively short return on investment.
On the other hand, there are cases where installing scrubbers is not a viable solution, such as lower fuel consumption ships that don’t enjoy the rate of savings as ships operated with EGCS and therefore have a longer payback. In a few cases, space and other technical factors can play a part in the decision not to scrub.
According to the latest estimates from the Exhaust Gas Cleaning System Association (EGCSA), there will be at least 4,000 ships fitted with scrubbers in 2020.
EGCSA offers technical information and advice to ship-owners, and participates in forums where regulations are developed, impact assessments are actioned and evaluated. It is working with the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) to form a group of designers and users to identify and improve quality and performance of EGCS.
The scrubber installations have gravitated towards the larger vessels and vessels with high installed power where the economics of the investment versus the lower fuel cost are projected to give a high rate of return.
The majority of the installations use sea water as the process fluid and discharge the treated and continuously monitored water overboard, in other words so-called open loop EGCS.
However, with the need to decarbonize the shipping industry and the development of alternative marine fuels, including zero-emission fuels, scrubbers have not been identified as a long-term solution, with some market analysts predicting their life-span not to exceed ten years.
The association begs to differ, saying that the demand for scrubbers would last for at least the next 30 years.
Speaking with World Maritime News, the EGCSA Director, Donald Gregory, explained that with the development of new fuels, scrubbers “may well evolve into much more advanced and sophisticated systems which purify the air that is discharged. The market life expectancy of current scrubbers removing SOx is at least another 10 years.”
“Carbon is an almost inevitable molecule of solid and liquid fuels that are easily transportable and managed. What may change is the source of the carbon, i.e. not from fossil, so I am doubtful about decarbonization,” Gregory said, referring to the scrubber market’s way forward on the heels of the establishment of Getting to Zero Coalition through which industry leaders such as Maersk, Norden, ABS etc, committed to leading the push for shipping’s decarbonization.
Touching upon the market readiness for 2020, Gregory said that many owners have not done their due diligence or have only half done it. There has also been uncertainty about fuel pricing, but risk and deriving advantage from it has been the shipowners’ bread and butter for years, Gregory continued.
Speaking about a wide-spread belief that scrubbers “simply transfer the pollution produced by vessels from the air to the ocean,” EGCSA director said that published evidence from research indicates that air quality is improved by removing SOx from the air through exhaust gas cleaning systems, adding that “the current status quo is that HSFO and distillate fuel emissions to air eventually settle in the sea.”
“By using an EGCS, the exhaust gases are scrubbed and particulate in the scrubbed water is treated as necessary to ensure the water discharged meets the strict and continuously monitored International Maritime Organisation (IMO) limits. EGCSA has carried out water sampling as have many other organisations. None of the research indicates significant exceedances of the IMO limits or for that matter other standards such as the World Health Organisation (WHO) water quality standards.
“Long-term studies at power stations, oil refineries and even the Port of Rotterdam have not identified any impact of scrubber process water on the environment in the water.”
When asked about the early teething issues that were reported with scrubbers, EGCSA said that incidents such as corrosion and water discharge into the auxiliary engine had been dealt with through design alterations. After years of development, the systems are today made of high-grade stainless steel and have an expected life of over 30 years.
The requirements for EGCS today include new types of materials such as glass reinforced plastic pipes, special stainless steels, hull coatings, use of monitoring equipment etc. These are all reliable and long lasting if the installations are undertaken by fabricators and installers with the appropriate experience and expertise, the association said.
Commenting on the recent bans on open-loop scrubbers by some of the world’s major ports, Gregory said that the decision-making process lacked science- or fact- based justification. Nevertheless, he doesn’t believe such decisions could jeopardize the take-up of EGCS to a major degree since ships fitted with scrubbers can easily switch over fuels to comply with the bans when entering the ports in question.
As explained, the majority of a ship’s fuel consumption occurs while it is in deep sea where it can comply with the sulphur cap by means of an EGCS.
“Well, uncertainty never helps in any business decision. So far, the calculated risk and reward balance seems to continue to be in favour of the flexibility and cost savings provided by EGCS,” he concluded.
Speaking on the way forward to a more environmentally-friendly future of the sector, Gregory noted that ports and shippers need to take responsibility for their actions and support development, adding that CO2 emissions “need to be measured and charged at a rate of at least USD 150/tonne.”
“There needs to be a cap on carbon emissions derived from fossil sources. Then there is the question of where the energy on board the ship is going to come from? Nuclear seems to be a sensible and coherent option as do liquid fuels. If fuel cells are not up to the job, then IC engines fuelled by hydrogen and carbon where the carbon has been recovered from the atmosphere may be a solution. This is a question that has so many aspects to it that potential answers to it could fill an entire magazine.”
World Maritime News Staff