Scrubbers: A Waiting Game


By Tim Sheahan 2016-04-17 19:15:13

(Article originally published in Jan/Feb 2016 edition.)

To scrub or not to scrub? That is the question.

By Tim Sheahan

When it comes to investment decisions by shipowners, most of whom are averse to any kind of investment in the first place, few areas are more controversial than that of scrubber technologies – or, to give them their proper name, exhaust gas cleaning systems. While major cruise companies are giving the go-ahead to their purchasing departments, many smaller businesses, and those away from the public eye, are putting such moves on hold. 

Sulfur emission legislation, which came into effect last year in Emission Control Areas (ECAs), has placed strict limits on the amount of sulfur ships are permitted to emit. Not only that, but with a global 0.5 percent cap on such emissions expected in either 2020 or 2025, it’s perhaps not so surprising to see many making the move ahead of time to ensure compliance sooner rather than later. 

“Looking at how many, or how few, scrubbers have been either installed or ordered, it is clear that most smaller and less public shipping companies are still sitting on the fence waiting,” explains Anders Aasen, Chief Executive of Triton Emission Solutions. “Most larger cruise companies have taken an early step in the direction of addressing the requirement already in force and the upcoming worldwide ECA of 0.5 percent in either 2020 or 2025.”

According to Aasen, who readily admits he has no crystal ball, the efforts of companies that have already made the investment to install scrubbers makes it very unlikely that the next step of worldwide ECA of 0.5 percent will be pushed out to 2025.

“With the current low oil price, many companies are waiting to invest since they can still afford to pay the difference in MGO,” he explains. “I think this is shortsighted, and I hope more shipowners wake up soon and realize the bright light at the end of the tunnel is a freight train coming toward them a lot faster than they think. Remember, we all have a responsibility to the environment. To keep adding the financial benefit of low oil prices to your bottom line cannot be considered environmentally responsible.”

Chemical Reaction

For Ove Mårtensson, Managing Director of pump manufacturer DESMI’s Norwegian subsidiary, current and pending SOx legislation makes it evident that scrubbers are likely to pay back on their upfront investment within two or three years.

“So while the capital costs are still an important issue for shipowners, more and more focus is being directed toward a crucial difference between exhaust gas scrubbing and other onboard systems,” he says. “Namely, that it’s a chemical process. And that’s a difference that demands far more of one particular component used in a variety of ordinary marine contexts: the humble pump. In fact, a growing number of industry voices are predicting surprises in store for those who think that, well, a pump’s just a pump, isn’t it?”

Mårtensson emphasizes that most people are not aware of how different it is to have such a chemical reaction on board. “This is something entirely new for the vast majority of shipowners,” he says. “Removing sulfur from exhaust gas is a chemical process that demands a lot more than just installing the usual type of pump and forgetting all about it. It takes know-how, experience and the right component quality to design scrubber pumps that will go the distance. For many marine pump manufacturers, making the transition to supply pumps for a chemical processing system in a marine environment will present significant difficulties and steep learning curves. And shipowners should be careful not to join their suppliers on the learning journey.”

Triton Emission Solutions recognized the challenge of using harsh chemicals and installing equipment that could actually increase the carbon footprint of a vessel as the wrong way to proceed. In gearing up for the future, the company established a Swedish subsidiary that has been testing the latest concept of its new exhaust gas scrubber, called NJORD.

“We have focused our R&D on developing a more carbon footprint-friendly system that uses drastically fewer chemicals than the existing systems currently on the market,” says CEO Aasen. “Another challenge with other current systems on the market is the effect their back pressure has on the engines and their struggle to be in 100 percent compliance at all times.” In December the company filed a patent application for its NJORD technology, which it describes as “a unique exhaust gas scrubber which requires no chemicals, uses less water than competitor scrubbers and reduces energy consumption. It is also significantly smaller in size than the competition.”

Meanwhile, the company’s DSOX-20 scrubber removes alkali metals such as sulfur and sodium from heavy marine fuel prior to combustion, making it a fuel scrubber rather than an exhaust scrubber.

World Record

Another manufacturer active in this space is Yara Marine Technologies, which recently installed five Yara SOx scrubbers, one for each engine, on the new M/V Norwegian Escape cruise ship. The owners of Norwegian Escape partnered with Oslo-based Yara to install the world’s biggest marine SOx scrubber system in a bid to further improve the vessel’s environmental credentials.

Norwegian Escape, the newest member of the Norwegian fleet, can carry up to 4,248 passengers and 1,731 crew. According to the company, diesel consumption at full cruising load is around 11 tons per hour while fueling an engine capacity equivalent to 1,000 cars. The new system can clean emissions from a 76.8 MW engine along with additional environment protection systems onboard for other pollutants such as ballast, waste and bilge water.

Commenting on the installation, Christer Karlsson, Senior Vice President of Newbuilding at Norwegian, says they were very satisfied with the scrubber system delivery as it performs as guaranteed and the compliance test was passed with flying colors. “Yara Marine Technologies also provided expert personnel onboard during Norwegian Escapes maiden voyage from England to the U.S.,” he adds, “in case more support should be needed. Their customer support is impeccable.”

Kai Låtun, Yara’s Chief Sales and Marketing Officer, says the delivery of its small, lightweight scrubber system was “special” as it is the biggest operating marine scrubber system in the world to date. Echoing others in the industry, he predicts the market for scrubber technologies will grow faster as ECA legislation comes into effect in the next five to ten years and when oil prices rebound.

“When oil goes up again, that should open up a larger market for us,” Låtun explains. “My assumption is that, starting in 2020, the IMO will limit sulfur content to 0.5 percent generally and 0.1 percent in the ECA zones, so that opens up a lot of other avenues. You’re looking at a market that is 50-60-70 times larger in 2020 than it is now. You also have the possibility of new ECAs in China, Australia and other areas. There is a three-year turnaround for the approval of these, but we are seeing rumblings of new shipbuilds that are looking seriously at these new regimes for 2020, guessing where this regulation will go.”

More Solutions

And while Yara has seen great success, most recently in commercial cruise ships, Nordic Made successfully installed its 27th retrofit scrubber tower last year, including 15 on cruise vessels and 12 on general cargo ships. As of last September, the company had been contracted to install 56 towers on 36 ships, making it one of the most experienced retrofitters of exhaust scrubbers.

Meanwhile, DuPont Sustainable Solutions revealed that it has been awarded a contract to supply its DuPont Marine Scrubber system to Jiangsu Hantong Ship Heavy Industry Co. The system, developed by DuPont subsidiary Belco Technologies Corporation, will be used on

two newbuild, self-unloading bulk carriers owned by Vulica Shipping Co., a wholly owned subsidiary of U.S.-based Vulcan Materials. The vessels will operate throughout the Gulf of Mexico.

 Each vessel features one multi-inlet scrubber, which handles exhaust from multiple auxiliary engines, and one single-inlet scrubber dedicated to the main engine. DuPont says its scrubber design is in-line and allows for operation without fans or a bypass while also featuring a “run-dry” capability that allows the ships to move easily in and out of ECAs. The system meets all U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. EPA and IMO SOx emission and wash water requirements. Delivery of the first unit is expected later this year. – MarEx

Tim Sheahan is a regular contributor to the magazine. 

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