January 1st 2020 saw the implementation of IMO’s MARPOL Annex VI (colloquially known as IMO2020) regulated to lower the current global limit for sulphur content of marine fuels from 3.50% to 0.50%..
VLSFO (Very Low Sulphur Fuel Oil) is one of the options suggested by the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) to achieve this reduction..
Shipping lines and fuel companies have been trying and testing several blended fuels that would help achieve these levels.. Many shipping lines have started using VLSFO and many have gone the scrubber route..
However, initial results of a Black Carbon measurement campaign submitted by Finland and Germany has demonstrated that the combustion of fuels with higher aromatic content is responsible for the emission of higher concentrations of Black Carbon (BC)..
BC is said to be a short-lived pollutant that absorbs sunlight quite strongly, trapping heat in the atmosphere and contributing to global warming..
Climate Home News quoted Bryan Comer, a senior researcher at the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT) as saying “While black carbon stays in the atmosphere for only a few days or weeks, in that time, it traps 3200-times more heat in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide, measured over a 20-year period.”
As per Bryan, when black carbon settles on the Arctic, it reduces the reflectiveness of the snow and ice and generates heat, which accelerates melting which makes the Arctic which is already warming twice as fast as the rest of the world particularly sensitive to these emissions..
The background of this study is that the 62nd session of MEPC (Marine Environmental Protection Committee) agreed on a work plan to consider the impact of of emission of Black Carbon from the shipping industry on the Arctic..
The Sub-Committee on Bulk Liquids and Gases was tasked with this work which included developing a definition of Black Carbon, identifying the most appropriate measurement method(s) for international shipping and investigating appropriate control measures..
The study found that the new hybrid fuels with 0.50% sulphur content used in the study contained a high proportion of aromatic compounds in a range of 70% to 95%, resulting in increased black carbon emissions in the range of 10% to 85% compared to HSFO (High Sulphur Fuel Oil)..
IPIECA (The global oil and gas association for advancing environmental and social performance) and a number of other shipping, refining, fuel supply and standards organizations worked together to produce the Joint Industry Guidance on the supply and use of 0.50%-sulphur marine fuel in August 2019..
This document was to provide guidance to the various stakeholders in the marine fuels and shipping industries including fuel blenders and suppliers to end users..
This document highlights the specific safety and operational issues relating to the supply and use of 0.50% sulphur fuels, fuel quality principles, and controls that should be put in place to identify, prevent and/or mitigate issues of safety..
Clean Arctic Alliance, a coalition of organisations campaigning for a ban on heavy fuel oil from Arctic shipping are asking those responsible for drawing up the official guidance on the supply and use of the low-sulphur fuel blends as to why the impact on BC emissions was not identified before the new fuels were put to use in the market..
This issue has naturally put the IMO under pressure with some campaigners describing this as a blunder and “a failure of the IMO’s regulatory process”..
The issue of BC emissions and the use of heavy fuel oil in the Arctic are on the agenda when the IMO’s sub-committee on pollution prevention and response meets in February 2020..
An IMO spokeswoman has been quoted as saying that the committee will have the opportunity to discuss the submission made by Finland and Germany and report back to its parent body, the Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC), when it meets at the end of March 2020..
So what does this mean for the industry..??
Well, if the statement of Sian Prior, lead advisor to the Clean Arctic Alliance to Climate Home News is anything to go by, it appears that there is a call for immediate measures to require first the ships in the Arctic and eventually ships everywhere else in the world, to switch to higher-quality distillates fuels, which have lower sulphur levels and emit less BC..
Since more than half of all ships in the Arctic are already using distillates fuel “This is not an impossible ask and could happen very quickly. This issue needs to be taken serious by the IMO.” says Prior..
The campaigners are calling all the countries which are parties to the IMO to demand urgent action at the February meeting..
The results of this campaign and study means that it is necessary for the industry to implement aromatic content, or H/C ratio, in the specification of marine fuels of the ISO 8217 petroleum standard..
As per the study, this would enable a better qualification of marine fuels with respect to their environmental performance in terms of BC emissions and benefit their characterization for ignition and combustion quality..
The study suggested that the International Organization for Standardization review ISO 8217 to include specifications taking into account the results of this study..
We will have to wait and watch with the rest of the world..!! Stay tuned..
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