The Growing Problem of Slops Disposal
By Vincent Favier
Not all oil spills are widely publicized. In fact, only the larger spills make the headlines in the mainstream press. However, many smaller - yet significant - spills happen regularly, but manage to slip under the media radar. And although less dramatic, the environmental impact of these incidents is considerable.
With 90 percent of the world’s goods transported by ships, using a combined 350 million tons of fuel oil every year, the waste material produced from the release of ballast water and tank residues, slops and sludges and soiled bilge water, is considerable. All of it needs to be disposed of without impacting the environment.
Legislation dictating how shipowners must dispose of waste is stringent, and disposal must be conducted in line with the IMO’s MARPOL Convention 73/78, and the E.U.’s European Directive 59/2000 regulations.
However, it would seem that there is a trend for some owners and operators to dump their slops illegally. The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) estimates that at least 3,000 incidents occur each year in which oily waters are deliberately dumped in European waters alone. For shipowners and operators, disposing of slops represents just one sustainability challenge they have to act upon under IMO and E.U. regulations.
At the height of the market, the waste product could be sold by slops collectors into cement industries. However, with the current crash in crude prices, these markets are taking the opportunity to purchase purer, virgin products, removing the natural market for slops disposal.
The scope of the problem is now so significant that the European Sea Ports Organisation put port and ship waste among its top ten environmental concerns, in positions five and six respectively.
Slops are now building up in ports, with tanks becoming physically full. Many ports do not have adequate reception facilities, and the opportunities for waste collectors to dispose of slops sustainably are limited. Yet port authorities cannot authorize vessels to leave the ports until the slops are disposed of, causing downtime for ship owners and operators, which they cannot afford, as well as creating significant environmental and sustainability issues.
It is within this context that Ecoslops has created a technology that sustainably treats slops through a micro-refining process, regenerating them into valuable fuel and light bitumen for the marine and construction markets. While the principle and design of the technology is well established, Ecoslops conducted further research to develop the concept for the Oil Waste Processing Plant (OW2P), which combines an innovative refining petroleum process and sophisticated techniques with an appropriate clean water regeneration scheme into one small treatment unit; a micro-refinery.
For ports, it takes the hassle of slops’ disposal out of the equation, regenerating the waste products rather than burning them, which has a positive impact on reducing pollution in port communities. It also helps ports to improve their sustainability profile, and enhances their competitiveness and reputation in the eyes of their customers and wider stakeholders. For shipowners and operators, they get the reassurance that their waste is treated appropriately and at the right cost.
In addition, with Corporate Social Responsibility high on the industry’s agenda, they can also improve their brand and reputation from the sustainable disposal and regeneration of their waste products. Ecoslops can also purchase the product from traditional slops’ collectors at a fair price, providing commercial benefits, as well as alleviating the pressures on storage capacity. This also results in a decrease in the fees slop collectors charge to the vessels, as they once again have a valuable output for their slops.
In 2012, Ecoslops won a tender in the Port of Sinès in Portugal to construct the company’s first refinery. Since operations began, the unit has proven its industrial efficiency by recycling and upcycling over 98 percent of the hydrocarbon residue collected. As a result, the company recently announced that it is on track to meet the annual target of producing 30,000 tons of regenerated slops in 2017 from the refinery, and the operation will break even by the end of 2016.
Also, in April 2016, Ecoslops was awarded the Future Programme’s Worldwide Innovation Challenge by the French government to continue the development of the technology.
Cases of deliberate waste dumping continue in the industry, and will only stop through the provision of a viable, sustainable and profitable way of tackling this problem. However, the development and implementation of new technology is transforming all areas sustainability within the shipping industry, including slops disposal.
As the global shipping industry’s tonnage increases in volume, and the difficulties facing slops disposal continues, the need for a sustainable solution in each port will become ever more pressing. The eradication of this issue was one of the core reasons for Ecoslops’ formation.
The development, validation and tangible success of its micro-refining technology is now recognized as a viable, commercial and sustainable solution for the disposal of slops. Furthermore it is representative of the increasing movement within shipping where advanced technology and innovation are viewed as the most effective way to overcome the sustainability challenges that the industry faces.
Vincent Favier is CEO of Ecoslops.
The opinions expressed herein are the author's and not necessarily those of The Maritime Executive.