Broadening technology thinking to future proof assets

The current pace and intensity of environmental regulations faced by the shipping industry has never been greater. The key challenge for ship owners is to future proof their assets against regulatory change occurring now and in future. Dr Mario Michan, CEO of Daphne Technology, explains the role of innovative pollution, fuel and vessel agnostic solutions in achieving this aim.

With the shipping industry facing the most intense and rapidly changing environmental regulations in its history, its transformative resilience going forward remains a topic of profound importance as pressure mounts to drive the sector towards decarbonisation and the elimination of air pollution.

For shipowners and operators, the only certainty is that environmental regulations will not stand still. There is a growing possibility that the International Maritime Organization (IMO) will implement tighter MARPOL Annex VI restrictions, which would force the industry to either move away from highly polluting fossil fuel, or find ways to abate its impact. Moving forward, stricter NOx restrictions, as well as further overarching restrictions on SOx and Particulate Matter (PM), are all realistic possibilities. In addition to this, the need to decarbonise shipping is undoubtedly one of the most significant challenges the industry has faced in decades, with the IMO’s Fourth GHG Study – published in August 2020 – revealing that shipping’s relative contribution to the climate crisis is still growing vastly.

Future proofing exhaust gas abatement is therefore vital as the local pollutants landscape has become complex with varying rules, including fragmented regional laws preventing the discharge of wash water from exhaust gas cleaning systems in port and near port waters across multiple regions. With environmental regulations around SOx, NOx, PM and black carbon only likely to tighten, shipping must embrace clean technologies that were designed with the future in mind.

Departure from legacy solutions

To achieve compliance with increasingly demanding environmental regulations, shipowners and operators, as well as charterers – who pay for more than 60% of all marine fuel bills – must be pragmatic and holistic in their approach. Therefore, embracing a future proofing strategy that protects assets against constantly changing regulations is essential.

When looking at SOx – which at current global compliance levels of 0.5% sees the average ship emit a staggering 1,000 times more SOx than the average car in the European Union – we cannot rely on legacy solutions, such as wet water scrubbers, which were designed up to 40 years ago. Although these solutions are effective in reducing SOx in line with the IMO’s global sulphur limit, other pollution problems arise when using traditional wet water scrubbers, which were designed and developed long before current environmental regulations were set.

It may be controversial within the scrubber debate to say, but these technologies are outdated and offer little future proof assurance. This is especially the case with open loop technology, which has been highly polarised within the maritime industry; Saudi Arabia being the latest country, on a lengthening list, to ban the technology in its ports. This takes the total number of countries that are restricting or prohibiting the discharge of wash water from open loop scrubbers to 22. The development means shipowners with open loop scrubbers installed must turn their units off while in a growing number of areas – requiring the vessel to burn more expensive distillate fuels when in and around port waters. The same vessel owners may have also invested in a separate SCR or EGR systems to remove NOx and ensure compliance.

As the shipping industry faces more stringent environmental regulations, vessel owners and operators need solutions that deliver futureproof compliance. By re-thinking expectations around exhaust gas cleaning systems’ capacity to respond to MARPOL Annex VI revisions, as well as further impending emissions’ challenges that will inevitably come, the industry can meet and exceed the IMO’s targets while benefiting from new technology’s ability to enhance the environmental performance of the current and future fuels mix.

Working within existing frameworks

Against this background, Daphne Technology looks beyond regulations and at the challenge of simultaneous SOx and NOx reduction, while also continuing to work within existing frameworks to provide the industry with market-ready regulatory agnostic solutions that tackle the range of pollutants shipping needs to eradicate now, and those we anticipate will come in time.

With our technology-first air purification approach, we have developed the world’s first solution that reduces both SOx and NOx pollutants from large ocean-going vessels’ engines exhaust gas, with no water or wastewater discharge. Our turnkey solution SulPure removes SOx and NOx pollutants simultaneously and negates the necessity for further investment in NOx SCR and EGR systems, as well as additional future SOx abatement. The system also effectively reduces PM, enabling ship owners to be prepared for the potential tightening of emission regulations in the future. 

The system purifies exhaust gas by breaking down the pollution molecules in an electron chamber, which uses patented technology to simultaneously eliminate SOx by up to 99.3% m/m and NOx by 85% m/m from the exhaust gas. This is then followed by an injection of urea (or an alternative agent) into the exhaust gas to neutralise acidic gases forming solid particles, which can then be recovered and optionally sold as fertiliser.

The competitive advantages of this system centres around its air pollutants deduction and future proofing abilities, which creates a gateway for abatement technology in the future marine fuel mix. By using this technology, ship owners making CAPEX investments in exhaust gas cleaning today can future proof their investments for the next 10 years and beyond.

The first retrofits of SulPure are set to be completed in 2021, which will take no longer than one week and will not require the vessels to be dry-docked.

Contributing to the circular economy

In line with our ambition to solve environmental challenges, our regulatory agnostic technology can not only capture pollution before its released, but it can also upcycle pollutants. This can be seen with our SulPure system, which transforms SOx and NOx pollutants into a market-ready fertiliser for the global agricultural industry. By transforming the pollutants into a upcycled product, this unique agricultural production method significantly reduces GHG emissions. It also allows us to directly contribute to the global transition to a circular economy, ultimately reducing pressure on the environment, adding resilience to raw material supply chains, boosting competitiveness, and strengthening economic growth.

Tackling tank to wake LNG fuel methane slip in tandem with SOx and NOx

Another incoming challenge for shipping was recently highlighted in the aforementioned IMO’s Fourth GHG Study, which revealed a 150% increase in methane emissions from 2012 to 2018, largely due to a surge in LNG fuelled ships. With methane slip from wake to wharf increasingly mitigated through new measures and technologies, the onus is now on shipping stakeholders to find solutions to mitigating methane slip (CH4 emissions) from tank to wake.

Addressing this issue is a critical challenge for shipowners and the wider shipping industry, as it seeks to meet IMO GHG emissions target compliance in 2030 and 2050, and improve market sentiment towards investment in LNG as a marine fuel. It is for this reason that plans are already underway at Daphne Technology to rapidly deliver a pollutant reduction technology that addresses the environmental shortcomings of LNG methane slip in tandem with reducing other emissions such as SOx, NOx, and PM. Our new technology has already been proven to reduce more than 90% methane slip (CH4 emissions), 99% SOx emissions, and 85% NOx emissions during a recent trial completed at our in-house R&D facility in Lausanne, Switzerland. Further internal and external tests are now underway as a priority.

Preparing for today and tomorrow with air pollution abatement technology

By adopting a technology first and regulatory agnostic approach, ship owners and operators have a pragmatic solution that challenges the operational shortcomings of incumbent air pollution abatement technologies. This gives them the opportunity to invest in a technology now that will future proof their assets and reduce the environmental impact of their fleet today and tomorrow. Pollution, fuel and vessel agnostic technology delivers an effective route to meeting shipping’s environmental targets, and represents a shift in the approach to abatement technology in shipping.

Rhys Berry

Rhys Berry