Cleaner fuel – or fuel cleaner?

03.29.18

The Wall Street Journal reports the owners of 60,000 cargo ships are bracing for tighter emissions rules that are forcing them to make a multibillion-dollar choice: Start buying cleaner-burning fuel or invest in a device that treats the ship’s exhaust before letting it out.

It isn’t an easy call. Retrofitting a vessel with a sulfur-trapping exhaust system, known as a “scrubber,” costs as much as $10 million, while cleaner fuels are about 55% more expensive than the ones shipping operators use now. Whether it makes sense to install scrubbers and absorb a bigger financial hit upfront depends on whether scrubbers will be adequate to meet even stricter pollution caps expected in the future and the availability and cost of cleaner fuels. Both factors are difficult to gauge.

Scrubbers involve “a complicated and expensive installation of $5-10 million per ship and the benefit to the environment is still not clear,” said Soren Toft, chief operating officer at Maersk Line, the world’s biggest container operator. “It’s like installing small refineries in approximately 60,000 vessels and it’s not a very sensible way of doing things.”

The deliberations stem from new caps on sulfur emissions issued by global regulator International Maritime Organization that will go into effect in January 2020. (Source: Wall Street Journal)


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