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Scrubbers under scrutiny by maritime industry as IMO 2020 nears

Scrubbers under scrutiny by maritime industry as IMO 2020 nears

Looming 2020 regulations capping marine fuel sulfur at 0.5% have so far benefited manufacturers marketing scrubbers – or exhaust gas cleaning systems, as they are more formally known – but this solution is now being viewed with a more critical eye.

At the 12th annual MARE Forum on November 27 in Houston, one of the biggest topics debated by the maritime and shipping market delegates in attendance was the role of scrubbers, which have enjoyed increasing popularity with shipowners in 2018, in meeting the tightening environmental rules.

Scrubber manufacturers marketed their systems with the promise of ‘business as usual’, as the exhaust gas cleaning systems essentially scrub the sulfur from currently used 3.5% sulfur bunker fuel to the mandated 0.5% sulfur ceiling.

But this version of ‘business as usual’ also includes the not-so-usual neutralization and disposal of the sulfuric acid washwater, as well as the maintenance of the scrubber. Because the systems have not yet been tested widely on long-haul voyages, their reliability gives cause for concern.

Scrubber uptake quadrupled in 2018

Derek Novak, Senior Vice President of Engineering and Technology and the American Bureau of Shipping, explained at the forum that the total adoption of scrubbers as of October 2018 amounted to 1,509 units, with 665 to be installed on newbuild vessels and 844 to be retrofitted.

He expects that a total of 2,000 to 3,000 vessels will be outfitted with scrubbers to comply with the new regulations. Assuming the total merchant marine fleet amounts to close to 60,000 vessels, those 2,000-3,000 scrubbers make up only 3%-5% of the entire fleet.

According to S&P Global Platts Analytics, the number of scrubbers installed and ordered at the end of November amounts to 1,948 units, while the total number of systems installed and ordered by January 2020 is forecast at 2,278, consuming around 500,000 b/d of high sulfur fuel oil.