Engine suppliers prepare for IMO 2020 fuels sulfur content cap
Kjeld Åbo, Chairman of CIMAC (the International Council on Combustion Engines) Fuels Working Group and Director Customer Support, Two Stroke Marine at MAN Diesel & Turbo, has said that the IMO’s proposed 0.5 percent marine fuel sulfur content limit was not unexpected but that there were a number of practical and strategic issues that needed to be addressed if the new regulations were to be implemented successfully by 2020. This article looks at how manufacturers of marine engines are rising to the challenge of meeting the IMO’s new sulfur oxides (Sox) emissions standards.
“The IMO’s October 2016 announcement that the organization intended to impose a global marine fuels sulfur content cap of 0.5 percent by 2020 was not unexpected,” Kjeld Åbo, said. “It sounds positive, but there will be hurdles to overcome in implementing it. At CIMAC, we expected such a cap to be imposed either by 2020 or, at the latest, by 2025, and about this time a year ago we were all convinced that 2020 would be the date – in fact we predicted this six months before the IMO actually decided on it.
“CIMAC has adopted a positive attitude towards the imposition of the fuel sulfur cap, even though the fuel refiners say it could cause a lot of difficulties,” said Åbo. One of the problems is how can sulfur cap recommendations be made when the future availability of ultra-low-sulfur fuel oil (ULSFO) is such an unknown quantity? In addition, different types of fuel that comply with the regulations may become available but it’s all a bit of a grey area and a mystery. “We need to prepare carefully for this so we can recommend the right kinds of fuel and its treatment on board for the commercial maritime sector to use.”
“There’s also the issue of ship capacity – will ships have to carry both 0.1 percent and 0.5 percent sulfur fuels at the same time? Will the fuels be comprised of a blend and a distillate on the same ship and how will they be stored?
“And, of course, there’s the issue of the market and how it will settle. How many scrubbers will need to be installed on ships in order to be able to utilize remaining heavy fuel oil (HFO) stocks? In fact, will it even be possible to sell HFO? Desulfurization plant is seldom readily available in the refineries and there will be the need to use up the leftover from production of the lighter product, for example HFO residues, somehow,” Åbo said.
Working Group Recommendations
CIMAC’s working group WG7 ‘Fuels’ will not only recommend what CIMAC should be doing to ensure industry compliance with the cap but will also publish its recommendations on how low-sulfur fuels should be handled, stored and used: “We each have our own crystal ball that we look into to try to foresee the future for fuels, but different companies see different visions and take different views on important issues,” said Åbo. “What the market needs to know is that the available fuels, no matter what they are, will be able to be used in marine engines. As engine developers, we need to be able to design the fuel injection parts of the engine correctly to match the fuel it will use. Ship design has become much more complex than it was 10 years ago, with engines optimized for fuel efficiency, emission compliance and for the use of new fuels. Engine manufacturers need to strive to be in front of the competition by responding to new technology and regulatory issues.”
New Tech for Regulatory Compliance
One of the first marine engineering and systems manufacturers to react when the IMO announced it had decided to implement its marine fuels sulfur content cap proposals from January 2020 was Wärtsilä, which released a statement that the company’s proactive development of exhaust gas cleaning systems and its broad offering in gas and dual-fuel engine technologies meant that it was well positioned to assist fleet owners implement plans for complying with the new regulations. Wärtsilä also stated that it had actively developed the technology, the capacity and the network to overcome the challenges faced by owners and operators in meeting the global sulfur cap regulations, and that it had been a pioneer in introducing dual-fuel engines to the shipping sector, thereby allowing the use of liquefied natural gas (LNG), which is sulfur-free, as a marine fuel. In addition, the company stated that the global sulfur cap meant that the world’s shipping fleets would need to either change to fuels like LNG, or to install abatement systems, and that it had the expertise to provide such systems for marine use.
Of course, production of dual-fuel marine engines to meet new environmental standards had already commenced a few years prior to the IMO’s 2020 sulfur cap announcement: the very first MaK dual-fuel marine engine to be produced by global engineering and industrial equipment manufactuer Caterpillar, the 12 M 46 DF, was shipped from the company’s facility in Rostock, Germany to Japanese customer Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) in June 2013 to be combined with three regular 12 M 43 C engines to power the first of two new-generation cruise ships ordered by Germany-based AIDA Cruises.
These marine engines were developed by Caterpillar Motoren at the company’s Kiel Engine Center in Germany and manufactured at its Rostock subsidiary. AIDA Cruises’ new generation of ships are designed with environmental protection in mind: the new AIDA vessels will consume even less than the three liters of fuel per passenger per 100 km consumed by ships in the company’s current fleet, being fitted with MaK dual-fuel engines that can run on liquefied gas (LNG), thereby substantially reducing carbon dioxide and particulate emissions. In fact, Caterpillar Motoren designed the MaK M 46 DF in anticipation of the IMO’s upcoming SOx emissions and fuel sulfur content regulations, as well as to provide maximum flexibility for vessels operating in regulated and/or lesser regulated areas without significant changes to the engine room or the exhaust gas system.
Taking the Exhaust Gas Clean-up Route
Although the new IMO regulations will reduce the allowable marine fuels sulfur content in all the world’s waters from the current 3.5 percent limit to less than 0.5 percent from January 1, 2020 (except in the designated emission control areas, or ECAs, where it is and will remain at 0.1 percent), under the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL), state parties to the convention are allowed to use, in lieu of using low-sulfur-content fuel below 0.5 percent, marine fuel with a sulfur content of 3.5 percent on ships that are equipped with systems of equivalent efficiency as confirmed by the supervisory authority of the party to the convention. This trend has precipitated the move to commercialize SOx scrubbers that are compliant with the new regulations.
In January of this year, MHI and Japanese companies Mitsubishi Kakoki Kaisha, Ltd. (MKK) and Kawasaki Kishen Kaisha, Ltd (“K” Line) have been undertaking test operations aboard an actual ship of a newly-developed ‘Hybrid SOx Scrubber System’ for desulfurizing marine engine exhaust gases. Test results have verified that the effectiveness of the system in reducing emissions of air pollutants complies with international regulations. The system has been officially approved by the Republic of Panama, the country where the test ship is registered.
The test unit of the Hybrid SOx Scrubber System is the first system jointly developed by MHI and MKK specifically for marine applications
and has been installed on marine transportation company
“K” Line’s large-scale automobile carrier Drive Green Highway. The system had been undergoing verification testing ever since delivery of the ship in February 2016, the results indicating that Japanese classification society Nippon Kaiji Kyokai (Class NK), with which the vessel is registered, had satisfied international guidelines for exhaust gas cleaning systems.
The MHI, MKK, “K” Line Hybrid SOx Scrubber System is the first commercialized system in Japan to comply with the more stringent SOx emission regulations that have come into effect, starting with the ECAs in 2015 and the three companies have stated that, going forward, they will continue to pursue diverse environmental protection initiatives, including the development of measures to prevent air pollution, in order to help curb increasingly heavy environmental loads on a global scale.
In a separate development, MHI and Mitsubishi Hitachi Power Systems, Ltd. (MHPS) announced a joint design of a Large-scale Rectangular Marine Scrubber that efficiently removes SOx from marine diesel engine exhaust gases. The scrubber is based on MHPS’s flue-gas treatment technologies developed through producing desulfurization systems for thermal power plants and will be produced by leveraging MHI’s expertise in marine engineering.
The new scrubber was specifically developed in response to the new SOx emissions regulations. The adoption of a rectangular box-shape configuration, which the companies said is a world first, is intended to offer ease of installation in small spaces and regulatory-compliant emissions treatment for high-output engines used on large-scale container ships. The scrubber is able to purify exhaust gas emitted from inexpensive heavy fuel oil to a level equivalent to that emitted by the more expensive low-sulfur fuels.
“Everyone has to face the issues, and this includes organizations that have been critical of the IMO’s proposals,” said Åbo. “The cap has major implications for fuel consumption and oil-producing nations – about 250,000 to 275,000 tonnes of HFO has to be converted to a useable form by 2020. Some stakeholders may be correct in saying that this won’t work and there will need to be a time delay to make the cap work properly.
“However, we will be lobbying the IMO about the issue to some extent but CIMAC’s position is basically that developments that complicate matters for maritime operators need to be addressed. We are taking a pragmatic approach to this issue, but of course we will be expressing some opinion. The implementation of the cap could be very difficult and we would expect that it could be a few years before there will be full implementation with all vessels compliant with the regulations and full availability of 0.5 percent sulfur fuel, and possibly even longer before policing of the limits by the authorities will work. Over the next 10+ years, I expect that fuels in the form of HFO (when using scrubbers), ULSFO 0.5 percent and DO/MDO will be the dominant fuels in the marine industry. There will also be increased use of LNG, LPG, methanol and others. A big question is, what will be the ‘design’ of new fuels like ULSFO 0.5 percent S so we in CIMAC can make the right recommendations regarding fuel specifications, and how do we treat the different fuels before they are used in engines?
“And, if I may make a final, paradoxical observation: will the shipowners wait to see the difference in fuel prices before they start ordering scrubbers and can the refineries wait for the high-sulfur fuel orders to come or will they need to find other markets for the bottom of the barrel?!”