Few issues have grabbed the attention of the shipping sector as firmly as the need to control emissions and improve environmental credentials. Despite this growing awareness, progress towards implementing practical measures to address these issues remains relatively slow. According to those who are developing solutions for the industry, this will have to change at some point in the near future, as the international regulations and the penalties they impose become ever more severe.

“Shipping companies know the big issues they need to get sorted out, but that does not mean that they have progressed very far in dealing with them,” says Don Gregory, director of environment and sustainability for BP Marine and chairman of the International Bunker Industry Association (IBIA). “The environment is now a boardroom issue that could make or break an individual company.”

CALIFORNIAN INITIATIVE

“By 2010 all vessels must use only marine gas oil with a sulphur content of no more than 0.1%.”

One indication of the direction in which the regulatory environment is moving is the steps taken by the state of California in regard to air emissions from shipping. From 1 January 2007, the state’s Air Resources Board requires all ocean-going commercial ships calling at its ports to switch to low-sulphur diesel or gas oil fuel, with a maximum sulphur content of 0.5%, within 24nm of its coast.

Furthermore, ships are also obliged to keep detailed records of when the switch to auxiliary engines is made, with prosecution under the state’s health and safety laws, which allow for hefty fines, the penalty for non-compliance. The regulations stipulate that by 2010 all vessels must use only marine gas oil with a sulphur content of no more than 0.1%.

“Quality shipowners are now planning ahead of regulation, but it is true that most shipowners lack the resources, principally manpower, to take a proactive approach,” notes Gregory. The implication is that for this planning to result in effective, cost-efficient initiatives, the industry needs to coordinate its efforts, bringing together views and ideas from all sides of the industry, from shipowners to energy companies, to inform the regulatory process and the shipping sector’s response to it.

“Moves on a unilateral or local basis are not enough,” says Gregory.”I am a strong advocate of the industry getting together to develop cost-effective and implementable solutions, otherwise we will see a rollercoaster of initiatives, resulting in a patchwork quilt of regulations around the world. So far, this cooperation is not happening that well.” Sorry, there are no polls available at the moment.

This is not to decry the efforts of organisations such as the Shipping Emissions Abatement and Trading (SEAaT) group, a proactive, cross-industry forum that is working hard to facilitate the reduction of harmful emissions to air from the shipping industry. Over the last four years, SEAaT, which is driven by shipowners, brokers, technology companies and fuel suppliers, has done much to raise awareness of the available solutions. Its focus is mainly on sulphur oxides (SOx), nitrogen oxides (NOx) and particulate matter, all of which have an impact on health and air quality. Other organisations are looking at water pollution issues.

So far, much of the international regulatory effort has focused on Sox emissions, most notably with the appearance of a growing number of SOx Emission Control Areas(SECAs) around the world, but NOx and particulates will increasingly come under the spotlight.

USE THE RIGHT TOOLS

The switch to low sulphur fuel is grabbing the headlines, as it is a common sense approach to the problem. In 2006, fuels containing a maximum of 1.5% sulphur became required by law, though ports that want lower emissions are looking to stipulate sulphur content as low as 0.2% or 0.1%, as in the case of California. By 2008, more SECAs are likely to appear around major shipping locations around the USA.

However, according to Gregory, the use of low sulphur fuels is not the cureall that some might think it to be. In fact, it may create many problems of its own, not least of which is the cost to shipowners of refitting vessels to use such fuels. Given the enormous potential demand for these fuels, supply may become tight. Add to this the fact that low sulphur fuels still produce some harmful emissions and it becomes clear that other solutions are required. BP Marine has taken this firmly on board, hence its development of seawater scrubbing (SWS) technology.

Scrubbing systems could represent a simple solution to managing environmental compliance, as it produces very clean exhaust gases even with high-sulphur fuels. BP Marine, which is also working on cleaner fuels, has teamed up with UK-based marine equipment developer Kittiwake Ltd to created Krystallon Ltd, which designs and builds SWS technology.

In January 2006, the first SWS system was installed on the P&O ferry Pride of Kent, which operates across the English Channel on the busy route between Dover and Calais. Since then, BP Marine has undertaken rigorous environmental impact assessments and operational durability testing on the technology.

The initial results from the implementation indicated that there were no measurable Sox emissions using the scrubbing system, despite the fact that the vessel used fuel with 2% sulphur content. Emissions levels, therefore, were below the level required by the IMO’s SECAs, which stipulate maximum emissions of 6g/kWh, and suggested compliance with the more stringent requirements of EU ports, which come into effect in January 2010. Since this initial evaluation of the technology, rigorous evaluation has shown that impressive levels of emission reduction are achieved in the long term.

“SWS is doing really well and we have turned the corner in terms of credibility,” says Gregory. “The demonstrable unit on the Pride of Kent has seen over 7,000 hours of operation and has achieved unbelievable reductions in emissions, with 99% scrubbing efficiency, and there is also significant progress on getting approvals for our continuous monitoring technology.”

“Cruise lines may combine their environmental efforts when green issues become a higher priority for passengers.”

A report conducted by BP Marine on a ship moving to diesel fuel shows that the scrubbing technology provided an ROI within four months. Furthermore, this suggests that, by using different fuels with low sulphur content, the ROI is likely to appeal to potential users in many sectors of the shipping industry.

BP Marine is also making strong progress on the treatment of wastewater that results from the scrubbing process, which it hopes will help the technology gain more recognition among ports during the first half of 2007.

The monitoring technology that Gregory refers to is also developing rapidly. Working with Cascade Technologies, manufacturer of Quantum Cascade (QC) lasers for the monitoring of SOx and NOx emissions, BP Marine is offering shipping operators the chance to improve their measurement of emissions and devise strategies around a higher level of transparency.

The system is compact, virtually maintenance-free, relatively inexpensive, self-calibrating and fully functioning from day one. It offers an accurate picture of what is happening to SOx, NOx and particulate matter emissions. The technology platform uses lasers and detectors to sense changing light intensity as laser light passes through gases. It enables shipowners to assess their performance on emissions based on real-time readings from their vessels, rather than on calculated estimates.

FULL SPEED AHEAD

Regulation is certainly the stick forcing the industry to look at emissions, but legislative progress is slow. “The IMO initiative is moving unacceptably slowly, but although it is not perfect it does at least provide a uniform approach around the world,” says Gregory.”There are still many problems to solve, but it is better than ill-informed local regulations, which only serve to create more complexity.”

Operators will best serve their businesses by being more proactive, and Gregory feels there are advantages to adopting the right approach early.”The main advantage of responding early to environmental concerns is that regulatory compliance is achieved more smoothly and at the lowest possible cost,” he says.

“In regard to air quality, it means a company is better informed about all the options. If an operator can plan ahead and get the moral high ground then environmental performance could be used widely as a marketing tool. For some cruise brands, green credentials could help marketing activity. I’m surprised they’re not used more. A good environmental record can result in interfaces with land facilities.”

Cruise lines may combine their environmental efforts when green issues become a higher priority for passengers, and this may be starting to happen, at least among specific passenger demographics. BP is hoping that during 2007 its SWS technology will be more widely accepted as a recognised technology, proving itself on a larger number of ships, along with its continuous monitoring systems.

A range of tools for managing emissions is in place, and willingness in the market to adopt these systems is growing, so the time is ripe for stakeholders in the shipping industry to come together and take a more proactive and effective approach to improving the sector’s green credentials.