Opinion remains divided over whether to use scrubbers as a means of compliance with the 2020 global sulphur cap
At one point in the debate over how best to comply with the sulphur cap regulations in 2020, a consensus appeared to be emerging that scrubbers represented a sensible solution to the problem of how to ensure compliance without having to worry about the cost, availability and technical complications associated with sourcing new fuels.
The case for scrubbers was made succinctly by Iain White, global marketing manager at ExxonMobil Marine Fuels and Lubricants, at the European Marine Engineering Conference earlier this year.
While he made it clear that there would be no ‘magic bullet’ that would guarantee compliance with the sulphur cap, he did lay out certain economic realities that may underpin the decisions shipowners would make in the interim.
In particular, he pointed out that the arrival of the sulphur cap would see the price of high sulphur fuel oil collapse almost overnight as it became unusable without abatement technologies, i.e. scrubbers.
Meanwhile, he said, the price of compliant distillates such as marine gas oil was likely to skyrocket as demand for potentially limited stocks soared.
The effect of this would be that those whose vessels were already equipped with scrubbers would be ideally placed to exploit the low price of residual fuels, which would mean a potentially very rapid payback on investment in scrubbers.
Given that the scale of capital expenditure required for scrubbers is the single biggest obstacle to their installation, this seems a strong argument for their adoption. While Mr White did not make any specific recommendations to the audience, he did say: “The economics for scrubbers are going to become very clear in January 2020 – and very compelling.”
But this case suffered a blow, when Maersk Line announced that it would not be using scrubbers on its global fleet, but would instead be using low sulphur fuel in order to achieve compliance. This decision, the group asserted, was triggered by a number of factors. One was that it did not believe that investment in retrofitting complex machinery requiring specialised maintenance and personnel represented a good business case. Maersk Line also feels that scrubbers, by allowing the continued use of cheaper fuels, could ruin any kind of broader business case for enhancing energy efficiency.
Another possible reason why such businesses may be fighting shy of scrubbers is the fear that they may be rendered obsolete if further restrictions on CO2 emissions are effected after 2020. Were such regulations to come into force, scrubbers would be ‘stranded assets’ after only five years.
Hapag Lloyd, too, has suggested that it had no plans to use scrubbers and would instead pursue a policy of burning 0.5% sulphur fuel post 2020.
All this has clearly had a negative effect on the scrubber market, with many suppliers reporting a disappointing number of orders for the systems. It is unclear, though, how much this has to do with Maersk’s decision and how much with shipowners leaving their decision to the last possible minute.
Exhaust Gas Cleaning Systems Association director Don Gregory believes the latter is certainly a major factor, as shipowners opt to wait and see. Speaking to FL&ET, he said: “We’re in a bit of a logjam at the moment, with shipowners sitting on their hands. To many of them, 2020 seems a long way away, and they prefer to deal with it nearer the time.”
He continued: “One or two shipowners have said they’re going to get scrubbers, but haven’t yet done anything about it, so I’m afraid our ealier predictions on sales feel a long way off the mark at the minute. I think we’ll start to see a lot of movement in 2018.”
He believes Maersk’s announcement on scrubbers to have been more strategic than definitive, saying: “Maersk is in a stand-off with the oil industry, and this announcement was as much a part of that as it was about what will actually happen.”
Mr Gregory remains optimistic about the future of scrubbers, though, believing that the business case will simply mean that it is common sense to use them. “I think that in 2019, when the residual price starts dropping, you’re suddenly going to see a lot of people changing their minds,” he said. “Ultimately, the economics work if you’re using a lot of fuel and fuel’s cheap. The old adage is that marine fuel has to be widely available and cheap. That fits with residual HSFO and scrubbers.” He predicts that, by 2025, there will be between 10,000 and 20,000 vessels worldwide fitted with scrubbers (in particular, large vessels).
Mr Gregory believes there is another reason why after scrubbers – in particular so-called ‘wet’ scrubbers – will be in place in 2025. “Sulphur isn’t the real problem anymore,” he said. “Everyone now is looking at particulates, but IMO hasn’t even started looking at that question yet. The strong likelihood of regulation on that could help make the case for scrubbers regardless.”
Fincantieri and GE to develop new emission-control solution
An entirely new emission-control solution is to be developed by Fincantieri in conjunction with GE Power.
Called the Shipboard Pollutant Removal System, the solution is designed to reduce Sox and particulate emissions in compliance with the global sulphur cap that will be in effect by 2020.
According to the agreement, Fincantieri will define the necessary technical parameters to design an emission-control system for a vessel, including constraints and improvements to develop a competitive product. At the same time, GE Power will define the features necessary for an emission-control system, to help meet the target performances.
The agreement, which follows a memorandum of understanding signed by the two companies last September, was signed by GE Italy president and chief executive Sandro De Poli and Fincantieri chief executive Giuseppe Bono.
Mr Bono emphasised the unique nature of the collaboration, saying: “No shipbuilder before had ever established a partnership to reduce emissions with a system manufacturer that is one of the leaders in the area in which it operates. This strategy, having cutting-edge research and innovation at the forefront, will allow us to raise the bar of technology to the benefit of the cruise market.”
The exact nature of the new solution remains unclear at this stage because it is still in development. A Fincantieri representative told Marine Propulsion that it was too early to disclose further details about the project. But there was perhaps a hint that it will rely on scrubbing technology in the company’s statement that “While the system is being developed for cruise vessels, it is intended that it should be appropriate for all vessels using heavy fuel.”
Scrubbers cut Toll on the environment
Yara Marine Technologies is to supply hybrid scrubber systems on two roro vessels to global logistics company Toll.
With both vessels operating on the environmentally sensitive Australian coast, the exhaust gas cleaning system from Yara Marine Technologies has been carefully designed with unique technology to minimise the vessels’ environmental footprint.
The latest membrane technology to reduce sludge transportation and frequency converters installed on all pumps are some of the specially designed features to reduce the vessels’ energy consumption. To improve health and safety outcomes for the crew, magnesium oxide (MgO), rather than the less safe caustic soda (NaOH), has been chosen as the alkali in closed loop.
The roro vessels will be equipped with two 10,2 MW MAN engines that will be connected to one scrubber each, cleaning all sulphur dioxide (SOx) down to the strictest IMO requirements.
The first vessel is expected to be delivered in 2018.