At Riviera Maritime Media’s ‘Scrubbers: service experience, sulphur spreads, safety and science’ webinar, experts forecast a long-term future for exhaust gas cleaning systems to improve air quality and human health in ports and coastal communities
The webinar was co-sponsored by Ecospray Technologies and VDL AEC Maritime. A representative from each company took part in the webinar. The panel consisted of Clean Shipping Alliance 2020 executive director Ian Adams, DFDS environment and sustainability director Poul Woodall, VDL AEC Maritime sales director Joost Wijdeveld, Ecospray Technologies marine department director Alberto Di Cecio and PureteQ chief executive officer Anders Skibdal.
The Exhaust Gas Cleaning Systems Association is the sponsor of a week of webinars on Marine Air Pollution and it was only fitting that its director Don Gregory opened the proceedings. He said, “The webinars were constructed to illustrate how there are linkages and cohesion is required to bring together all aspects of air quality, shipping’s role and the role of other players. For example, CO2 does not separate from high sulphur fuel oil and its consumption and emissions, NOx emissions do not sit separate from the overall toxic load in ports.
“All these various pollutants have to be addressed. The clear message we have been getting from the polls and delegates on the webinars this week is that shipping needs to speed up change and it is capable of doing so as it has done with IMO 2020. IMO needs to provide a very, very clear roadmap with dates and requirements, going forward, in such a way as to avoid the cliff edge changes, such as we saw on 31 December 2019. Such ways of introducing regulation cause massive disruption to all parties, it is highly inefficient and it is very suboptimal.”
He noted the message from the other webinars is the diesel engine will remain a power force in the marine sector for many years to come. “In order for the engine to co-exist with the ambition to achieve clean air, we have to accept that exhaust gas after-treatment is here to stay, and such systems will eventually be fitted to all ships,” he said.
Ian Adams gave the first presentation, which was on the science behind the exhaust gas cleaning system – often referred to as scrubbers. Mr Adams has been involved in the shipping industry since 1985 in various capacities, with P&O Cruises, Deep Sea Seals and Hamworthy. He is currently executive director of the Clean Shipping Alliance 2020 (CSA 2020) and managing director of IMA Marine Ltd. He was appointed chief executive of The International Bunker Industry Association (IBIA) in February 2009.
He explained in his presentation that in a scrubber, sulphur oxides (SOx) are removed using either seawater or chemically treated freshwater. The alkalinity of the water neutralises SOx. The wash water is then discharged to the sea (open loop) or recirculated (closed loop). The chemical reaction was described as:
SO2 + H2O <> “H2SO3” (sulphurous acid) <> H+ + HSO3– (bisulphite)
HSO3– (bisulphite) <> H+ + SO3 2- (sulphite)
SO32- (sulphite) + ½ O2 <> SO42- (sulphate)
Research by two scientists in 1991 resulted in a now famous quote used to argue the ocean is the natural sink for sulphur.
“If all the sulphur in the sea were spread out as an even layer, the total ocean area of the world would be covered by a 5-foot thick layer of sulphur. If all the sulphur from all the known oil and coal reserves were added to this layer, the thickness would only increase by the thickness of a sheet of paper.” Nyman and Tokerud (1991).
The alternative, commented Mr Adams, is that sulphur would be released into the atmosphere, where it will return to earth as acid rain. “We have also heard of other developments whereby exhaust gas cleaning systems can be used to remove other pollutants in addition to the sulphur,” he said.
DFDS is a well-known shortsea operator in northern Europe. Its director of environment and sustainability Poul Woodall gave the second presentation. Mr Woodall has over 40 years of experience within the maritime and transport industry. The first 36 years were spent with AP Moller-Maersk in various positions, mainly within the container and roro segments. Since 2010, he has been with DFDS in Copenhagen.
The company has been environmentally conscious for longer than most others. It first fitted a scrubber to a vessel in 2009 and that scrubber has now given 55,000 hours of service. Mr Woodall described one part of his job as, “…to reply to questions from our customers on environmental and climate issues.” Any questions sent to the company regarding scrubbers – what they are, what they do – goes to him.
“So, what have I seen from our customer base? Nothing,” he said. “That may surprise a few people. We receive a lot of questions from authorities and media, but to date, no question from a customer regarding scrubbers,” he said.
He commented that this might be due to the complexity of the issue or conversely, maybe the company has explained it so well, there are no questions. The main interest was around the fact that the company did comply. He also noted that as a publicly quoted company, in the last 12-18 months there have been questions from investors. “We have not met anybody in the investor community saying they don’t like it (scrubbers). They just need to know what it is we are doing (to mitigate sulphur),” he said.
One of the co-sponsors of this webinar is VDL AEC, a Dutch family-owned, 100-plus companies conglomerate that produces a wide range of goods and services. VDL AEC owns and operated Nedcar, a car factory in the Netherlands that for the last 50 years has built cars on behalf of Volvo, DaimlerChrysler, Mitsubishi and now the BMW 1 series and the BMW-owned brand Mini, including the hybrid version of these model series. This illustrates the depth of the manufacturing technologies in the company and VDL AEC Maritime sales director Joost Wijdeveld has a background in the automotive sector. He graduated in automotive electrical engineering and specialises in engine management and vehicle control systems. Mr Wijdeveld joined the VDL Groep 20 years ago and has been sales director for VDL AEC Maritime since June 2018.
Mr Wijdeveld was on hand to provide service experience and scrubber monitoring from the suppliers’ point of view. “We have more than 100 scrubber systems installed, certified and in operation,” he said. The main task is to ensure the scrubbers are compliant with port state control and shipowners and operators must be prepared for inspection.
“How do you prepare well? In our view, you perform good maintenance on the scrubber system by qualified personnel and you perform the yearly calibration with qualified personnel,” he said. The VDL AEC systems are geared for remote monitoring. Mr Wijdeveld said, “Our systems have remote monitoring, which is especially important in these Covid-19 challenging times. We have a good relationship with class societies which allows us to perform remote calibration and remote certification.”
The issue of ’sulphur spread’, the difference between the price of low sulphur fuel oil (LSFO) and high sulphur fuel oil (HSFO) was also tackled by Mr Wijdeveld. Although it was expected that 2020 would see some volatility in the sulphur spread, the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic, the drop in crude oil demand and Saudi Arabia opening the crude oil production taps compounded an already volatile situation. Mr Wijdeveld expects a recovery of the normal situation. “The good thing is that this is a short-term item and in the longer term the fuel oil price spread (sulphur spread) will recover,” he said. He noted that Bloomberg, ING and BIMCO had estimated the sulphur spread would be in the range of US$165/tonne to US$300/tonne. “This give us the confidence that in the long term, the EGCS investment will pay off.”
He closed his presentation with a report from Japan which concluded that the option of a scrubber was better than not having a scrubber.
Ecospray Technologies entered the scrubber business in 2012, having had a system under development since 2008, reported its marine department director Alberto Di Cecio.
“In April this year, we discovered we had surpassed 500 systems certified on board ships,” he said. The Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic is proving a challenge, but the company has completed more than 40 installations during the lockdown period with a local surveyor on board. “We are commissioning systems remotely. We have installed them on 251 vessels, 90% are retrofits and 10% newbuilds,” he said. The company has a healthy pipeline of sales and installations due in 2020 and 2021, he noted.
Keeping the installed systems in compliance is the main priority. Regarding compliance, he said, “We strongly believe in the automation of the system, especially remote connection. We have 24/7 remote assistance. We can implement software updates, troubleshooting and servicing.” Ecospray pays particular attention to the training aspect of the installation. “The more engagement we have with the crew, the better the usage rate,” he said, and this was an experience the company wished to pass on to the rest of the industry.
The other experience is to have a ready supply of spare parts around the world. “This is especially important for vessels with unpredictable itineraries,” he said. Looking back at what makes a successful installation, Mr Di Cecio noted that the more time spent planning the engineering, the better the outcome. The wish might be to standardise installations, but every ship has its challenges. “Installation engineering time is required to develop these customised solutions,” he said.
Where standardisation can be achieved is in the software. “Standard software and ease of use are important for the operator. Complicated software makes the operator reluctant to use it. Having key parameters always available makes life easier, too,” was Mr Di Cecio’s feedback. This includes quick access to functions such as soot blowing or manoeuvring.
Ecospray spends significant time and investment in research and development and is developing three new technologies. “The first is a plume elimination system to go beyond compliance in terms of smoke emissions. The goal is to eliminate any visible smoke from the stack, which can generate issues, especially with both state and local authorities,” he said. The second development is a new generation of catalyst for particle matter and NOx,” he said.
Some of these products are already available, and some are close to finalisation. These new or improved products will be available for the leisure and commercial markets. The third major development is a washwater filtration system. “We have a new generation of this technology currently in the commissioning phase,” said Mr Di Cecio.
PureteQ chief executive officer Anders Skibdal noted the company now has over 100 approved systems in operation and these are equipped with remote access. Customers are enthusiastic about this element and it has been a beneficial feature during the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic lockdown. “It also saves a lot of time and we will continue to use the remote systems access a lot more after lockdown,” he said. “It saves time, effort and money not having to dispatch physical engineers to the ship, but instead guide the crew from a distance,” said Mr Skibdal.
Mr Skibdal’s feedback on service experience related to sensors, CEMS and WMS, dampers, and training and handover.
For sensors, he reported most of the problems are and have been caused by faulty installation, only a few problems were caused by the sensor itself. Often the problem was caused by relatively simple installation mistakes, such as the wrong type of connector used in installation, twisted communications and power cables or the wrong type of glands leading to electrical disturbance.
Referring to the dampers, he said “If these are not frequently operated, they tend to become stuck. Sometimes there are no inspection hatches to access and clean them. This is being improved by shipowners and shipyards and these issues are becoming less frequent.”
That said, Mr Skibdal was able to report an uptime and compliance rate of 98% to 99.8%. “To answer the question: are scrubbers reliable? The answer is definitely yes,” he said. Where there have been problems with scrubbers, social media means these are well documented. “You will all have seen the image of the water pouring into the engineroom,” he said. He commented there have been a few of these cases globally and the initial indications are that the crew had installed jumpers or other work arounds not approved by the scrubber manufacturer. “Sometimes, there has not been enough redundancy on the safety systems,” he said. Of course, in these cases, he was not referring to the PureteQ system, but to scrubber incidents in general.
The experience of these incidents and Mr Skibdal’s observations were surmised in a list of desirable features for safely operating a scrubber:
The PureteQ system, noted Mr Skibdal, is on a journey from condition-based maintenance to predictive maintenance through the collection of hundreds of data points every hour. This breaks down into the extra cost of parts, consumables, calibration, service, and training depending on the size of the vessel:
Finally, Mr Skibdal noted that these lower costs can only be achieved through the correct and thorough training of the crew in the operation and maintenance of the scrubber system. Failure to do this would result in higher costs in the long term.
Polls and questions
An SECA is expected to be introduced in the Mediterranean. The webinar audience agreed, as 82% expect the entire Mediterranean to become a 0.10% SECA within the next 5 years.
Another driver is the spread between the price of HFO and VLSFO. When asked ‘At which price spread (HFO – VLSFO) would a scrubber investment be a valid business case for your organisation?’ the webinar audience voted 36% for US$150-US$200 per tonne of fuel, 28% for US$100-US$150, 12% for US$200 and higher, 6% for US$50-US$100, while 18% said it did not depend on price spread, but was about corporate policy.
In a further question, the audience was asked what they expect the spread between HFO and VLSFO will be once the world returns to normal, from the current coronavirus crisis. 42% said it would be around US$150 per tonne, 36% thought US$100 and 22% said US$200.
Panellists said investment in scrubbing systems would be more likely to be recouped in the medium term as the fuel price spread expanded. Although the price spread between the two has shrunk of late amid a global pandemic and disputes between oil producing nations, many analysts expect the spread to be more than US$100/tonne from 2021 onwards.
In addition to oil prices, Covid-19 has impacted installation of EGCSs this year with 51% of the audience forecasting there to be a slow recovery in demand for scrubbers in H2 2020. Another 41% expect demand to be stalled due to Covid-19 and its subsequent impact on the global economy and just 8% expected demand to significantly improve.
In the long term, poll results appeared to signal a feeling that additional demand is likely to come from abatement technology being introduced for other pollutants, perhaps driven by IMO legislation. When asked ‘Which of the following substances will be the subject for the next strengthening of IMO environmental/climate regulations?’ 34% of the audience forecast this to be CO2 and 21% particles in exhaust. Another 18% thought it would be washwater, 13% NOx and another 14% black carbon.