Yves Bonte is Head of Industrial at Norway-based Yara International, which delivers solutions for sustainable agriculture and the environment and has a presence in 150 countries
When the International Maritime Organization’s (IMO) Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC) next meets later this month, it will face a choice: either it will affirm the announced 2016 implementation for Tier III Nitrogen Oxide (NOx) emission standards on new-built ships or push it back by as far as five years, to 2021. Regardless of that decision, the tide on environmental protection has already changed for the shipping industry – just as it has for industries based on land. Sooner, rather than later, the maritime industry will be forced to meet its responsibilities and clean up its emissions act.
If IMO mandates do not force the industry’s hand, public pressure will. From labor practices to sustainable product sourcing, activist consumers have radically changed the nature of many industries’ supply chains. For most ordinary people, the impact that shipping has on the environment – beyond images of catastrophic oil tanker spills – is largely out of sight and out of mind. Yet the galvanising nature of global communications guarantees that will change. The link that shipping provides in the global supply chains of products people love will face greater scrutiny and pressure to improve. The same will go for cruise lines and other maritime operations. As this tipping point approaches, the unavoidable question facing ship owners and operators of all stripes is not if or even when they will reduce emissions – but how.
The IMO’s three-tier structure for progressively tightening NOx emission standards was agreed in 2008. NOx is not so much a greenhouse gas – though it does contribute to that – as it is a poison. The smog that it creates exacerbates respiratory illness and is blamed for tens of thousands of deaths the world over annually. Tier III standards say that NOx emissions must be reduced to 3.4 g/kWh on any new-built ship operating within an Emissions Control Area (ECA). This is an 80% reduction from Tier I levels currently in place. Achieving that standard requires the use of Selective Catalytic Reduction (SCR) or other emission control technologies. Hesitancy or resistance to adopt one of those technologies is, of course, driven greatly by cost. It is also based on a sense of uncertainty as ship owners and operators feel themselves entering uncharted technological waters. Issues related to ongoing maintenance, technical support and ready access to the reagents required to run such systems loom as so many hurdles to would-be adopters. Cost-effective, low-hassle solutions require an established installation and support infrastructure. The good news is that NOx abatement companies have that in place.
Our experience with land-based industries shows how easy it can be to take leap and reduce NOx emissions. The power industry, for one, was wary of the cost and efficiency implications of introducing NOx reduction technologies. We estimate the typical cost for installation and operation of SCR in the range of a plant to be €1-3 per kg NOx, depending on the plant’s size, fuel type and location. This cost has proven not to be prohibitive.
In the maritime arena, we and other NOx reduction equipment suppliers have manufactured and supplied NOx reduction equipment to yards in Europe and in Asia, servicing vessels on both coastal and deep sea trades. So that presents no barrier. On the reagent side, a container ship operator typically needs the same access to reagent supplies as they do for fuel bunkering. Yara may be unique on that front. We are present in more than 150 countries. And since 2007, we have supplied reagent to hundreds of vessels in some of the world’s remotest parts – from the Bering Strait to up and down the length of Africa’s west coast.
While the global adoption of Tier III standards may yet be deferred, the US federal government has indicated it stands firm by its commitment to enforce the North American Emissions Control Area within its 200-mile territorial limits from January 2016. Given the volume of foreign-flagged shipping that plies US waters, tougher environmental regulations with global impact (if not universal application) will, in practical terms, be with us in less than two years. Whether driven by regulation or consumer forces, the maritime industry is set on a course towards improving its environmental impact. Easy, cost-effective solutions from NOx abatement providers can help provide a smooth passage.