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Europe’s economy depends on scrubbers
Marine Propulsion & Auxiliary Machinery
Services > Technical Highlights > 2014

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Scrubber technology will play a critical role in Europe’s economy, believes Don Gregory, technology and solutions director for Gulf Oil Marine and director of the Exhaust Gas Cleaning Systems Association (EGCSA).

 

Speaking at the Marine Propulsion Conference in April, he said that the European Commission is now taking a pragmatic approach to implementing emissions rules. The commission realizes, he said, “that if they don’t do something, the European economy is going to be in deep trouble” because of the importance of shipping to the region’s trade.

 

He is co-chair of a working group of the European Sustainable Shipping Forum (ESSF), which was established last September to bring together all 28 member states and 32 industry organizations to discuss practical issues surrounding the implementation of the EU’s marine emissions rules. As Mr. Gregory explained it, ESSF was” hastily set up by Brussels when they realized some things were going quite badly wrong in terms of the uptake of scrubbers.”

 

 

              
    

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Don Gregory (EGSCA): The ESSF was "hastily set up by Brussels"

For example, one of the issues recently discussed at the ESSF was prompted by suggestions that ports would not allow scrubber discharges in ports. Yet ports themselves have no jurisdiction over this, Mr. Gregory said; such decisions would have to be taken by port state authorities, “so they’ve been sent back to look at what those issues really are,” describing their stance as “a misunderstanding as to what’s being discharged.”While legislators tackle the regulations, however, there are some practical issues that are hindering the take-up of scrubbers by the industry, he believes.

 

Disposing of sludge from scrubbers is “a big question that gets asked,” he said, yet relatively little is produced – about 5kg for every tonne of fuel, he estimated. So far, most scrubber users have mixed it with other oily sludges and put it ashore, he said, but the ESSF is reviewing whether it should be treated more cautiously.

 

Equipment reliability is another concern. “What happens if it fails? That’s another one that shipowners are worried about,” he said. But scrubber reliability has improved, reducing the risk of failure, and port state control authorities are likely to take a pragmatic view.

In the UK, the Maritime and Coastguard Agency has said it will treat a scrubber failure in the same way as any other equipment failure: as long as the shipowner has taken steps to rectify the situation, the MCA would not require the owner to switch to a low sulphur fuel, he said.

 

But that may not be the case with every PSC authority, although in Europe he expects that a common consensus will emerge, not least because much of it borders on of the world’s major ECAs. “Of course, if the equipment failed continually, that would be a different issue” he warned.

 

Obtaining approvals for scrubber installations has proved a bottleneck, he said. There are now about 300 ships either on order or in operation with scrubbers and, at the time of the conference, EGCSA was due to meet classification society representatives to explore how the process can be speeded up. But one issue is outside the scope of that discussion: it is not possible to obtain approval for a scrubber system while a ship is in an ECA. “It’s a circular problem,” he said. “How do I test my scrubber when I can’t use my fuel unless I take it out of the ECA?”

 

Cost, however, is a significant obstacle to scrubbers’ take-up. They typically cost about US$150/kW yet, even at that price, they could offer a payback time for a ferry operating in an ECA measured in months, compared with the cost of low sulphur fuel.

 

But prices will fall, he said as the technology becomes less bespoke and more modularised .By the end of the decade, he told conference delegates, their cost could be down to around US$50/kW.