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  July 26th, 2018 | Written by

Global shipping—ambitious plans to reduce emissions

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  • Initiatives by carriers, ports, and localities reduce the environmental impact of ocean shipping.
  • Ocean shipping green initiatives include alternative fuels, reducing ship speed, and employing innovative hull coatings.
  • Methanol and ethanol are good potential alternatives for reducing carbon and sulfur emissions of ship operations.

The International Maritime Organization (IMO) adopted a strategy this year for reductions by the shipping industry of CO2 emissions. The UN agency adopted goals that would reduce ocean-carrier emissions by 50 percent by 2050, compared to 2008 levels. That matched the position being pushed by Norway’s government and its shipowners’ association and supported by industry groups like the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) and Canada’s Chamber of Marine Commerce (CMC).

There are also a number of initiatives being undertaken by individual carriers, ports, and even localities to reduce the environmental impact of ocean shipping. These include testing alternative fuels, reducing ship speed, even employing innovative coatings to ships that help improve fuel efficiency.

Advocates of IMO’s adopted plan emphasized that the strategy matches the expectations of the Paris climate agreement and sets global standards. “Agreement upon a mid-century objective for the total reduction of CO2 emissions by the sector, regardless of trade growth, is vital to discourage unilateral action and to provide the signal needed to stimulate the development of zero-CO2 fuels” said Esben Poulsson, the ICS chairman.

The new greenhouse gas standards represent the second stage of a three-step approach under an IMO strategy agreed to in 2016 for reducing emissions from ships. The first is a set of requirements for ships to collect data on their fuel oil consumption which entered into force on March 1, 2018 with amendments to International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL).

The reporting requirements under those amendments will begin on January 1, 2019, with data to be reported at the end of each year to the IMO. The purpose is to inform further measures needed to enhance energy efficiency and to address GHG emissions related to international shipping.

Under new Regulation 22A, ships of 5,000 gross tons and above are required to collect consumption data for each type of fuel oil they use. These ships account for 85 percent of CO2 emissions from international shipping. Data will be reported to flag states each year, and the flag state must determine the data has been properly reported and issue a statement of compliance to the ship.

Meanwhile, the IMO’s restrictions on sulfur oxide will come into force in January 2020. Those measures will reduce acceptable SOx levels, from 3.50 percent m/m (mass of sulfur/total mass) today to 0.50 percent m/m in 2020.

According to a report released by European Maritime Safety Agency, methanol and ethanol are good potential alternatives for reducing carbon and sulfur emissions of ship operations. Methanol has been investigated as a marine fuel in a few research projects, two of which involved pilot test installations on ships. The world’s first methanol conversion of vessel’s main engines came on a passenger ferry, the Stena Germanica, in 2015.

Ethanol has not been studied for use on ships, but has been used in truck diesel engines for years. Methanol is the simplest of alcohols and is produced mainly from natural gas while ethanol is mainly produced from biomass such as corn and sugar cane.

Challenges to the use of the alcohols include their lower energy density compared to fossil fuels, which will require more fuel storage space on board vessels. The flashpoints of both substances are below the minimum for maritime fuels specified in IMO rules, requiring further evaluation, the report noted.

Methanol and ethanol both have environmental advantages compared to conventional fuels: they are clean-burning, contain no sulfur, and can be produced from renewable feedstocks. Emissions are low compared to conventional fuel oils.

Guidelines are being drafted for the use of methanol and ethanol fuels on ships, for future incorporation in a newly-adopted international code for ships using non-conventional fuels. “This,” the report noted, “will facilitate the use of these fuels on board ships.”

Many ocean carriers around the globe have slowed their vessels to save on fuel. An example of a regional initiative comes from Southern California, where last year 10 shipping companies participating in an incentive program to voluntarily reduce speeds in the Santa Barbara Channel region to 12 knots or less. Ship emissions account for over 50 percent of smog-forming nitrogen oxides emissions in Santa Barbara County.

“Since the shipping industry is regulated by national and international organizations, the only way for us as a local agency to address shipping emissions in our region is through innovative strategies,” said Mike Villegas, director of the Ventura County Air Pollution Control District. “The level of participation is very encouraging.” A similar program for 2018 was launched in July, and has been expanded to include the San Francisco Bay area.

Efforts to reduce fuel usage emissions also involve changing hull coatings. The vessel COSCO Europe sliced fuel costs by $4.5 million and reduced CO2 emissions by 29,500 tons in the four years since it was coated with an innovative material that limits the growth of organisms on a vessel’s hull and minimizes frictional resistance. Jotun’s Hull Performance Solutions (HPS) system has been applied to over 400 vessels since its launch in 2011. The COSCO Europe is a 2008-built, 10,062 TEU container ship.

“As a company we are committed to delivering optimal value for all our stakeholders and the best environmental performance for our fleet,” said Hou Liping, deputy general manager of COSCO SHIPPING Lines.

Alfie Ong, vice president of Jotun Marine Coatings, said that more global shipping players are recognizing “that an investment in HPS is low-hanging fruit when it comes to optimizing hull performance.”

There’s good news when it comes to efforts to reduce the environmental impacts of ocean shipping. An ecosystem for fish and marine mammals is flourishing in Long Beach and Los Angeles harbors, according to a report on the water and habitat quality released last year. The survey, conducted through an ongoing partnership between the ports, identified 558 species of plants and animals living on the rocks and pilings in the harbors. That’s 60 percent more than in 2008 and almost double the number cataloged in 2000. Water quality conditions have also improved, with oxygen and phytoplankton measurements higher than ever before.

“There’s growing biodiversity in the harbors, including more birds and marine mammals, and we’re seeing species that cannot thrive in polluted waters,” said Lori Ann Guzmán of the Long Beach Board of Harbor Commissioners. “We should all be proud of these results and continue to work hard to build on this progress.”