The End of Heavy Fuel Oil in Maritime Shipping

The International Maritime Organization (IMO) has made a decisive effort to diversify the industry away from HFO into cleaner fuels with less harmful effects on the environment and human health. Effective in 2015, ships operated within the Emission Control Areas (ECAs) covering the Economic Exclusive Zone of North America, the Baltic Sea, the North Sea, and the English Channel will begin to use Marine Gas Oil (MGO) with allowable sulfur content up to 1,000 ppm. Starting from 2020, ships sailing outside ECAs will switch to Marine Diesel Oil (MDO) with permitted sulfur content up to 5,000 ppm.

That tectonic shift also creates openings for a variety of new fuels. Liquefied natural gas (LNG), newly abundant and relatively affordable, is attracting the attention of many shipping companies. 

While natural gas-based fuels may sometimes offer questionable climate benefits due to methane leakage concerns, the IMO’s low-sulfur regulation may create needed openings for other zero-sulfur, low-carbon marine fuels. Tests using fuel cells on the Viking Lady, an offshore supply ship, demonstrated promising results. Wind kites and solar panels have already been installed on numerous ships to supplement marine diesel engines. Even HFO will not completely disappear from the menu of marine fuels. Combined with scrubbers that capture more than 99% of the sulfur from the exhaust gas, HFO will continue to play an important role. The shift to cleaner but pricier low-sulfur fuels is likely to heighten interest in the “fifth fuel”: energy efficiency.

The continued diversification of marine fuels and improvements in energy efficiency have important implications. First and foremost, they may alleviate concerns about the availability of low-sulfur fuels.The efficiency improvement of the legacy fleet is the greatest force driving down the need for low-sulfur fuels, equivalent to adding about 110 “negatons” of fuel, or almost 24% of projected demand. 

Second, the new fuels are on a collision course with IMO safety regulations concerning flashpoint, the temperature at which a fuel can vaporize to form an ignitable mixture in air. The IMO currently requires marine fuels to have a minimum flashpoint of 60°C. But low-sulfur fuels have a lower flashpoint (50° to 55°C), meaning that they are “off-spec” and cannot be used under the IMO rule. The flashpoint requirement, which went into effect in 1976, was meant to provide a large margin of error to ensure the temperature of the engine room (normally below 45°C) does not exceed the flashpoint in any circumstance. But according to industry heavyweights such as Maersk and BIMCO, modern technologies such as advanced ventilation systems provide an adequate safety margin, and they argue that keeping the flashpoint requirement will cause the industry to miss the opportunity represented by the increased availability of low-sulfur, low-flashpoint fuels. Industry and member states such as the U.S. are urging the IMO to accelerate its consideration of an amendment to the flashpoint requirement. 

Stay informed with RCL Agencies updates about the latets shipping news and trade regulations

Source from : The International Council of Clean Transportation