PROPULSION REVOLUTION
Ships Monthly|January 2020
Jim Shaw summarises the efforts being made by the world’s shipping industry to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from ships, and how these efforts are reshaping marine propulsion and vessel design in light of new IMO 2020 regulations.
Jim Shaw

The International Maritime Organization (IMO) regulations limiting the sulphur content of bunker fuel to 0.5 per cent, a reduction of over 80 per cent from previous levels, takes effect on 1 January 2020. The new regulation is part of the organisation’s commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, particularly CO2, from the world’s merchant fleet by at least 50 per cent over the next three decades. This will require tremendous changes within the maritime sector, with the development of a commercially viable net zero CO2 emission paths to comply with the new IMO mandate: switching to low-sulphur fuel but at a higher cost; continuing to use high-sulphur fuel but installing ‘scrubbers’ to clean the exhaust; or using a cleaner alternative fuel, such as liquefied natural gas (LNG), which requires engine modifications and the installation of large cryogenic fuel tanks.

In addition, a number of auxiliary propulsion and fuelsaving devices, such as Flettner rotors, fuel cells, solar cells, batteries, kites and sails, are being experimented with to improve vessel efficiency and reduce pollution. Some are limited to wind-prevalent routes vessel needed by 2030 to cut average carbon intensity, or CO2 per tonne-mile, by at least 40 per cent.

At a recent forum on shipping held in Greece an executive with a major banking group cautioned shipping companies: ‘This is the end of the shipping industry as you know it’; 11 banks with over $100 billion in shipping loans have now agreed on an emission baseline to assess climate risk and shipping companies’ ability to meet international reduction targets if their businesses are to continue to receive financing.

To date, ship operators have been following three basic or short runs, where electrical charging can be accomplished from land. Nevertheless, the shift to new technologies, including the use of fuels such as alcohol, biomethane and ammonia, is being accelerated and it is changing how ships are being propelled as well as how they are designed.

SCRUBBERS

According to ship insurer Gard, nearly 3,000 vessels will have exhaust gas scrubbing units installed by the IMO 2020 deadline, with the first having gone aboard a ship over a decade ago. The retrofit installation of these units, which takes up a considerable amount of space, usually sees them fit in a ship’s funnel by enlarging it or by the construction of a new housing.

In addition, as seawater is used in the cleaning process, a large amount of new piping is required, along with electrical control cables. Two types of scrubber systems have been developed: closed-loop and open-loop, with the latter returning the seawater with its contaminants to the ocean, while the former treats the water and retains contaminants for disposal ashore.

Although the use of scrubbers cleans exhaust gases, the contaminants remain and some ports have already forbidden entry of ships using open-loop systems. Right now, the purchase and installation of scrubbers can cost shipowners between $2 million and $10 million, depending upon the type of installation, with the work usually accomplished during a regular shipyard visit. Their payoffis the ability to continue using heavy fuel oil.

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