The black sheep of the particulate family
29th January 2014 00:25 GMT

Particulates are pesky things that come in many different guises. Coarse varieties, visible in smoke, are an irritant for lungs and eyes. Finer particulates are possibly worse, as they can enter your bloodstream via your lungs. A large body of research has linked inhalation of particulate matter (PM) to respiratory illness and heart problems, and possibly other life-shortening diseases. Increasingly, the response to research linking PM to premature deaths is the introduction of regulations to curb air pollution.

One variety of PM has been singled out for particular attention; black carbon (BC), often referred to as soot. Like all PM varieties, BC is bad for human health, but one key attribute makes it the black sheep of the particulate family; it is light-absorbing. Suspended in the atmosphere it warms by absorbing sunlight, while soot deposits will make ice and snow melt faster. BC is therefore associated with global warning, especially in the polar regions.

The International Maritime Organization (IMO) began discussing BC in 2010, when it was informed that although marine vessels emit only around 2% of total global BC, the release of BC emissions in northern shipping routes affecting the Arctic is particularly damaging and magnifies their impact. In July 2011, the IMO agreed to initiate work to control BC emissions from shipping.

Progress has been slow. Some would say the IMO is moving with glacial speed on this issue, perhaps being held up by those questioning the case for regulating BC from shipping. But glaciers and Arctic sea ice have been receding at an alarming rate, opening up the region for more shipping activity, suggesting that pressure to regulate BC will grow.

So far, the IMO has not even agreed on a definition of BC that is suitable for developing a ship-specific regulation, or measurement methods. Should they count just the black sheep, or include brown and grey ones as well?

There are also diverging views on what has the biggest impact on BC emissions, a product of incomplete fuel combustion. Most - but not all - studies suggest that BC is linked to fuel quality, with low sulphur distillate fuels being better than heavy fuel oil (HFO). Uncertainty remains about the exact relationships between engine load and BC emissions, which will also vary between ship and engine types.

Several control measures have already been suggested, including vessel speed reduction, banning the use of HFO in or near the Arctic, designating a new emission control area (ECA) and technology solutions. These include in-engine measures, water-in-fuel emulsification and scrubbers. Diesel particulate filters are said to be particularly effective at controlling BC, but they work best with ultra low sulphur distillate fuels and cannot be used together with HFO.

Regulations of BC could be another assault on the use of HFO in international shipping, unless advocates of scrubbing technology can convince decision makers at the IMO that this is an appropriate BC control method.

A regulation for BC could also be the first targeting PM specifically. Actual PM limits are currently not specified in ECAs, as PM emissions (by mass) are reduced as a result of sulphur reductions.

The black sheep of the particulate family could be worth watching, as measures to control them might have an impact on the rest of the flock.

This text first appeared as a Commentary in the March/April 2013 issue of the Bunker Bulletin, the bi-monthly Bunkerworld magazine.

Unni Einemo,
29th January 2014 00:25 GMT

Comments on this Blog
Stephen James Weedon
3rd February 2014
A new emulsion fuel from British / Canadian firm Quadrise International Fuels, claims to almost eliminate particulate emissions while also aiming to be 10-20% cheaper than HFO. Other benefits include Lower Nox and Co2 emission so coupled with existing Exhaust gas cleaning systems can be a self financing option for ship owners to meat the 2020/25 MARPOL regulations
Stephen James Weedon
3rd February 2014
Re Quadrise International Fuels.I should have also mentioned that this revolutionary fuel is currently being evaluated by Maersk in ship-born trials using both Wartsila and Man engines. Results of both trials are expected be completed in the next couple of months.
Heinz Otto
6th February 2014
Hi Unni,
at first: thank you, to speak about BC and the "quick" IMO.
Hi Stephen, so there is a little hope for less BC within GHG from Ships.
But: we all have lost 50 years, because we have ignored the power of the wind, using with modern sails, as DYNARIG, PINTARIG and FALCONRIG.
Heinz Otto -
Svend Soeyland
11th February 2014
We are happy that Sustainable Shipping raise this important issue. We hope that IMO can develop robust definitions of BC and also efficient ways of reducing these emissions. IMO at it best is when mature technology options are promoted rather than sidelined by political delaying tactics as we have seen at recent MEPC meetings.
Svend Soeyland, Bellona Foundation
Manikant Jha - Prens B.V.
17th March 2014
Has the Sulfur level of 1.0% become mandatory for North and South America ?
Manikant Jha - Prens B.V.
17th March 2014
What is the general price difference between 1.0%m/m and 4.5%m/m Sulfur MFO-380 ?
Brian Boyd
26th April 2014
i agree with Svend Soeyland. The technology is out there today. Around 50% reduction in emissions and pays for itself immediately. Check out i've seen emissions test where opacity was improved by 50% and HC by as much as 85%

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