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Issue #1907      March 16, 2020

Marine fuel for ships a little cleaner now

Maritime shipping is still the most carbon-efficient form of transporting goods – far more than road or air. All forms of transport must be made more environmentally friendly by the use of alternative fuels where practicable and by tightening regulations on the discharge of toxic substances into the environment.

But despite Maritime shipping being the most carbon-efficient form of transporting goods marine fuel is often made up of heavy fuel oil and diesel oil. Marine fuel, also known as bunker fuel, is considered the lowest grade of fuel. This has resulted in the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) implementing a new sulphur content in emissions requirement on marine fuel.

The old requirement was a limit of 3.5 per cent mass by mass sulphur for ships operating outside Emission Control Areas, the new requirement which came into effect in January 2020 requires a limit of 0.5 per cent mass by mass sulphur, which is a clear positive step forward for the global environment.

However, marine fuel still emits high amounts of fine and ultrafine particulate matter (PM2.5 and under 1 micrometre), Sulphur Oxides (SOx), Nitrogen Oxides (NOx), metals, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, and soot. The associated health hazards are numerous, ranging from exasperating asthma, causing cardiovascular diseases, cancers, and it can shorten life expectancy.

Sulphur oxides and nitrogen oxides have the indirect effects of ocean acidification and fertilisation, which affects the exchange of carbon dioxide between the atmosphere and the oceans.

Ship owners are to bear the high costs of compliance with the new sulphur cap limit which is achievable in two main ways; a) by burning fuel that has a sulphur concentration within the cap limit or b) by installing emission abatement technology (scrubbers) on board. Retrofitting scrubber installation costs millions of dollars per ship. A high proportion of the global fleet are already fitted with open-loop systems, which, according to The Lancet, “a high proportion of the global fleet is fitted with open-loop systems, in which the exhaust gas is sprayed with seawater and the treated wastewater is then discharged into the sea.”

There are environmental concerns that the sulphur cap regulation might inadvertently convert air pollution into water pollution when waste water is not treated properly and is illegally discharged.

Can we trust shipping conglomerates?

Sir Isaac Newton said “To every action there is always an equal and opposite or contrary reaction.”

When looking for improvements and solutions for environmental issues we need to keep Newton’s genus deliberations in mind.

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