Making Quick Work of Ballast Water Treatment

Image courtesy Alfa Laval

Published Jun 24, 2019 2:59 PM by Alfa Laval

As the IMO ballast water treatment requirement rolls out, equipment vendors are competing to offer shipowners the most flexible, useful systems possible. This means delivering reliable compliance in a wide range of water conditions, but it also means meeting operators’ needs - like minimum holding time. Alfa Laval's UV-based PureBallast 3 system recently received U.S. Coast Guard type approval for discharging ballast water just 2.5 hours after taking it on board - a small fraction of the time required under the system’s first American certification in 2016. It needs no holding time at all for ballasting cycles completed within the same Captain of the Port zone.

Holding time is one of the regulatory requirements for U.S. Coast Guard type approval (though not abroad, where the IMO's G8 guidelines prevail). A day or two of holding time is acceptable for deep sea ships on long voyages, but it is a serious inconvenience for smaller vessels with frequent port calls, according to Peter Sahlen, the new head of Alfa Laval PureBallast. Small container ships, bulkers, barges and similar vessels may visit two or more ports within the span of a day, and waiting 24-48 hours to discharge ballast may not be an option.

Long holding time requirements can also be confusing for the ship's crew, as each tank may have a different compliance status at any given moment. "You don't want to have to keep track of when you ballasted and deballasted each individual tank in order to make sure that you have the right holding time," Sahlen says.

In response to these concerns, Alfa Laval put considerable effort into gaining certification for the shortest possible holding time, and it won Coast Guard approval for "zero-day" discharges in April. The company says that this gives PureBallast 3 a leg up on other UV-based systems, but it makes it especially competitive when compared with electrochlorination-based treatment, which requires either more time or more neutralizing chemicals to achieve Coast Guard discharge requirements. Thanks to the ultra-short holding time and other features - like its ability to operate in any salinity and to treat water with UV transmittance as low as 42 percent - PureBallast 3 has the fewest operating restrictions of any technology on the market today, according to Alfa Laval.

Achieving compliance

Now that regulators are shifting their emphasis to shipboard implementation, Sahlen says, proper system operation is essential - and it is only going to become more important as inspection regimes ramp up.

“The IMO and the U.S. Coast Guard are beyond the type-approval phase, and they are moving to enforcement," he says. "Last year, Coast Guard inspectors found 200-plus deficiencies, and they are just scratching the surface. For now, their inspectors are only asking whether the ship has a ballast water record book, who is responsible for operating the system, and whether they can demonstrate how to use it. They will soon move to the next stage - taking samples of treated water - and there will be discoveries."

Improper operation and maintenance can lead to non-compliance, and proper training is the best way to avoid it, according to Sahlen. Over the years, Alfa Laval has found that guided, hands-on experience on a dedicated mock-up unit is an excellent way to prepare crewmembers to use the equipment properly. The company has built out training facilities in Stockholm, Mumbai, Manila and Houston to make quality training accessible for seafarers all over the world.

Alfa Laval also has a worldwide service network for maintaining its equipment installations, with 51 trained employees distributed around the globe, from Japan to Texas. "We track which ship gets support at the first port call after they reported an issue and which one gets support in the second harbor. Second harbor support is very close to 100 percent these days," says Sahlen. The work is normally completed pierside, but Alfa Laval can provide riding crews to conduct work under way if required by the ship's schedule.

To ensure predictable cost of ownership, Alfa Laval is happy to sign a performance agreement with shipowners, guaranteeing that consumables, scheduled maintenance and (if needed) any repairs come at a set cost for a five- or ten-year period. "The equipment may run without any problems over that period, but there are maintenance items that have to be done either way, like sensor calibration, sampling and seal replacements. The agreement gives the owner certainty about these operating costs," Sahlen says.

VIDA may improve value proposition

The United States recently enacted the Vessel Incidental Discharge Act, a package of legislation that includes provisions for ballast water system regulation. Among many other items, it requires the U.S. Coast Guard to treat non-viable organisms (rendered incapable of reproduction) as the equivalent of visibly "dead" (nonmoving) organisms for purposes of type approval. The USCG is still working out the details of how this new rule will be applied, but it could bring U.S. standards closer to the IMO requirements used in the rest of the world.

"This sends a signal that the U.S. Coast Guard is taking another stance on evaluating ballast water treatment technology, and it's very positive," Sahlen says. "If you can run the system to meet IMO standards rather than the current U.S. standards, you will have lower operating expenses. We are really looking forward to seeing what the new Coast Guard regulation will look like, whether there will be additional testing that we will have to carry out, and we will do what we have to do to comply to their new requirements."

First G8-compliant system

PureBallast was the second system to receive U.S. Coast Guard type approval, and Alfa Laval made a push to ensure that it would be the first to win approval under the revised IMO G8 standard, which will become mandatory for new installations after October 2020.

"You might think that a year and a half is far out in the distance, but making a deal, manufacturing equipment, shipping it to the shipyard and having it installed takes a lot of time. Several suppliers now have been approved the G8 standard, but in the long run, I think that competition will bring the number of ballast treatment system vendors down to 25 companies at most," says Sahlen.

Long-term support is an important consideration for shipowners: a ballast water treatment system will likely last the life of a vessel, and if the OEM should cease operation, its installed systems will face sustainment and compliance challenges. As the most established BWTS vendor in the market, Alfa Laval is a stable and reliable long-term partner, with more than a decade of experience in ballast water treatment, a fully-built service network and a range of diversified income streams - attributes that position it well for the long haul.  

This article is sponsored by Alfa Laval. For more information on PureBallast 3, please visit https://www.alfalaval.com/products/process-solutions/ballast-water-treatment-system/pureballast-3-1/.

The opinions expressed herein are the author's and not necessarily those of The Maritime Executive.