Despite recent market challenges, scrubbers are set to play a key role in the decarbonisation of the maritime industry
This was one of the key conclusions of the Scrubbers: bridging the decarbonisation gap, part of Riviera Maritime Media’s Container Ship Tech & Ops webinar week. The webinar was sponsored by Trident BMC and Yara Marine Technologies.
On the panel were Exhaust Gas Cleaning Systems Association (EGCSA) director Don Gregory, Trident BMC deputy technical director Piotr Witkowski and Yara Marine Technologies chief sales officer Aleksander Askeland.
Highlighting some of the challenges the scrubber sector is facing, Mr Gregory said, “NGOs have continued to make unsubstantiated claims against exhaust gas cleaning system discharge water, on the other hand they have not made any claims about IMO hybrid fuels, and we know there are some very interesting cocktails of very low sulphur fuel oils. There seems to be a preference to follow beliefs and ignore facts and this is quite worrying because it is causing a delay in this process of marine defossilisation. All members of the EGCSA are working hard, and we hope we won’t be delayed by intransigence caused by inbuilt beliefs about what is right and what is wrong. There will be a number of solutions to achieve defossilisation and reducing CO2 emissions into the atmosphere, hopefully to zero.”
He added, “Ports have also been a problem for us and they have restricted use of open-loop scrubbers in some ports, in Singapore for example, when there was no substantiated evidence.”
EGCSA figures show that to date, there have been around 5,000 ships fitted with scrubbers. Mr Gregory said, “The benefit of this has not really been highlighted, either at IMO or by NGOs, but they have benefited the global society as those ships fitted with scrubbers have 10-20% lower well-to-wake CO2 emissions. What that means is that taking carbon out of the ground and putting it into the ship via the transport system and refineries results in CO2 emissions for energy produced of between 10-20% less than processed fuels like MDOs and very low sulphur fuel oils and such.”
This results in 16-32M tonnes of CO2 avoided compared with ships running on IMO prescribed fuels.
Mr Gregory added, “Scrubbers have a great track record, there have been some problems… but many of those were from suppliers that did not really do their homework and had a cost offer-produced product below the standard of what is expected from EGCSA members. Routine maintenance – yes there is some, but it is minimal… the payback has been fantastic and container ships continue to fit scrubbers as standard on new ships they are building.”
And Mr Gregory emphasises this is not a short-term thing. “These scrubbers will also be developed to deal with new fuels as they will also have emissions.”
Looking to the future
Indeed, he pointed out that many manufacturers are looking at some of the future stages in the development of scrubbers.
Mr Gregory also spoke about the environmental impact. “There have been unsubstantiated concerns that have been raised relating to captured SOx and other exhaust compounds, some are saying these go into the sea and are causing harm – these are unsubstantiated [claims] but these are being addressed.”
EGCSA has done an ecotoxicity risk assessment. “We started it a few months ago, this is real life, taking samples of discharge water and assessing them in their whole effluent toxicity and looking at the impact of effluent on marine organisms. It is a highly precise and a standardised procedure, so we don’t make up the rules as we go along. These organisms are looked at for survivability, ability to reproduce and so on, and results in a predicted environmental concentration.”
Mr Gregory explained they took discharge water from four vessels operating in northwest Europe and had these samples tested in labs in Copenhagen. The toxicity testing was carried out in a stage-by-stage process, with each stage looking for acute toxicity and other affects, while the final sequence was testing the water on fish. These were then entered into a model derived by IMO to look at how to understand the impact of the effluent of antifouling.
A predictive environment concentration is given to assess its risk in ports, and was conducted by independent global experts DHI.
Mr Gregory’s presentation explained the conclusions and next steps: The risk of discharge water can be expressed as the ratio between:
The risk assessment carried out reported an RCR below 1. The risk to the aquatic environment can be considered acceptable.
Mr Gregory summed up, “We are contacting ports to do more assessments, like Singapore and Seattle, so really putting to bed this issue of ‘are scrubbers bad for the environment or not’?
Elsewhere, Yara’s Mr Askeland emphasised that “scrubbers will be key to achieving a real decarbonisation result.”
A perfect storm
The pandemic has caused obstacles for the scrubber market, with Mr Askeland saying, “The scrubber journey has hit a few obstacles and the Covid environment has been a perfect storm. It has been a significant stress test for scrubber technology as the business case was severely hit with the pandemic and the subsequent fall in the oil price and the fuel price spread. It is taking a hit on the technology that could put in sustained damage for the long term and that would be very bad for the decarbonisation environment.
“We see that scrubbers remain relevant for large vessels, for container ships in particular the business case is still very strong given their fuel consumption and the speed they travel at but overall the market has slowed. We have been working on the individual scrubber level to make sure we push the results even further for the installed base that is already there.”
He explained, “What can we do to make sure the scrubber is fully operational and providing compliance when needed? We need to be ahead of the curve on preventative maintenance, we need to work around all these constraints that are coming now – getting people to travel from Asia to Europe to install a scrubber has been very difficult. There is modern technology that will help, and preventative maintenance is what is pushing the benefits of the scrubber in the Covid period.”
He said, “The scrubber can contribute to number of ways to decarbonisation, number one, it is a first step. Optimising another step and moving forward it is difficult to see how they can do carbon capture and storage on vessels without some sort of scrubber.” He said even if a vessel is not able to capture 100%, just 20% or 30% can create a “massive impact” and can be done relatively quickly, allowing operators to keep vessels running for longer, in compliance and meeting the targets.
Mr Askeland added, “There is an important point in how scrubbers can accelerate decarbonisation. If you want to run on different fuels – methanol or ammonia – you will need to have some sort of emissions abatement, so once the technology has matured, once heavy fuel oil has been taken out of the market in volume, to get those alternative fuels in, you will need some sort of scrubber on your vessel.
“We are not just building the bridge of decarbonisation on the first face of scrubbers but building the entire bridge over into the next generation of fuels. It is hard to see how you can avoid having good scrubber technology on a vessel if you want to run some sort of combustion engine.”
He summed up, “We have a positive outlook… the outlook and potential are very, very significant.”
Installation key to success
Elsewhere, Mr Witkowski highlighted the importance of installing scrubber equipment. Trident BMC has installed 114 scrubbers on ships, including on 45 ultra-large container ships. Mr Witkowski explained how the company has made the installation process more efficient.
He expanded, “We believe the key to success is to stick to turnkey solutions and one-stop partners as much as possible. We like to have all the pieces of the puzzle under control.” He said in the inspections stage, teams can have great ideas at an early stage, while the second important part involves the concept and engineering, with inhouse engineers carrying out all stages of design. Trident MBC also takes care of the procurement and logistics.
Moving to construction, Mr Witkowski said, “The key is to prepare as much as possible before going on board the vessel. Prefabricate whatever is possible, do it by modular approach.”
Trident BMC also provides comprehensive after sales and support worldwide.
He singled out a Trident BMC case study to highlight the benefits of an efficient installation process: the project consisted of a turnkey installation of exhaust gas cleaning systems on a series of ultra-large container ships and included 3D laser scanning, a feasibility study, detailed design engineering, fabrication of new 250-tonne funnel sections, installation of two exhaust scrubber towers, all piping works, electrical works, class approval and commissioning. The out of service time was only 28 days due to a modular approach and advanced prefabrication stage.
Looking ahead, he said, “We have ideas about where the technology will go and how it could develop. We believe they are good options for large container vessels as they are burning a lot of fuel. We are ready for future developments aimed at greenhouse gas reductions, scrubbers are part of this, not only for SOx but they help minimise particulate matters.”
Mr Gregory said the “message that came across from all of us on the panel is this is not the end of the road for exhaust gas cleaning systems, they came out to decrease SOx, but they also have some side benefits, and these side benefits could well increase in the future, whether removing pollution or CO2. I hope it is both and hope we can drive the need and the means to achieve both. How do we get there? Defossilisation needs to have some mechanism to make it work and I don’t think setting arbitrary limits is the way forward… there needs to be a cost of carbon and maybe that could be driven by some sort of carbon cap.”
Meanwhile, Mr Askeland said, “There are multiple avenues where scrubbers can help with decarbonisation, some are direct, some indirect, where the scrubber could end up being an enabler for other technologies and truly achieve significant steps in decarbonisation. It will take a few years; alternative fuels will have some sort of next-generation scrubber on them. For those of us in the scrubber business, we are going to stay around.”
While Mr Witkowski said, “The whole industry must work together on the developments to shift technology to greenhouse gas reductions,” adding that scrubbers are “a great platform on vessels for future developments.”
Webinar attendees were asked: to make a real and permanent reduction to fossil fuel-related CO2 emissions from shipping should there be… 42% voted for introduce a declining cap on global marine-sourced fossil fuel CO2 emissions, followed by 38% for the introduction of a carbon intensity index. 20% said continued use of energy efficiency design and operation index (EEOI & EEDI).
Asked, what is the likelihood of scrubber installations after the EEXI has entered into force in 2023? 22% agreed with: I do not foresee more scrubbers being installed after 2023, with 51% plumping for scrubbers will still play a reasonable role like today. 27% agreed with scrubber installations will be booming because of carbon capture and storage technologies.
Asked, with the current fuel prices in mind, would you currently consider installing scrubbers in your fleet? The majority (47%) voted for yes, fuel prices will go up again, but 17% said no, the business case is not promising. 36% said maybe.
Asked, what is a realistic maximum payback time for scrubbers to be economically attractive? 3% said under one year, 33% said under two years, 30% said under three years and 16% said under four years. 13% agreed with under five years. 3% said never, not going to happen and 2% abstained.
Asked, how do you regard an investment in high-voltage shore connections... shore power? 12% said they are making that investment. 33% said it was something they will look at in one to two years, while 22% said it was something they would look at in three to five years. 11% said it was something they will look at in five years plus. 22% said it was not something they were actively considering.
Asked, what is your key method for exhaust emissions reduction? 70% said scrubbers, followed by 15% for LNG conversion. 10% said slow steaming. 5% said ER EMT.