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Environmental Regulation Drives Industry Innovation

Kirsi Tikka
President and Chief Operating Officer
European Division, ABS


As environmental regulations evolve, responsibilities change for vessel owners and operators. Keeping up with the growing number of environmental regulations is a challenge, particularly when the perception of corporate social responsibility encourages companies to pursue enhanced environmental options over the legal obligations. Of particular interest in the North American market today are new requirements set out under the Emissions Control Area (ECA), which will come into effect in August in accordance with the MARPOL Convention. The goal of these requirements is emission reduction of nitrogen oxides, sulfur oxides and fine particulate matter.

Introduction of the North American ECA presents operational and technical challenges to ship owners and operators. However, ships sailing within 24 nautical miles of the California coast and those operating in the European ECA have successfully addressed these challenges. Shipowners need to understand the options available and weigh economic and safety considerations associated with each. One option involves switching to low-sulfur fuels while operating in the ECA. An ABS advisory notice on fuel oil switching has been helpful to the industry.

While many vessel owners and operators are focusing on low-sulfur fuels or the use of emissions scrubbers, others are evaluating the use of cleaner-burning LNG fuel. Availability, particularly in light of enormous shale gas resources within the U.S., is raising the profile of LNG as a potential fuel and pushing it to the fore as an attractive choice from a commercial and environmental compliance point of view. The biggest challenges regarding widespread adoption of LNG as a marine fuel are availability and cost, which are infrastructure related. Other challenges include the volume required and the most appropriate location for LNG storage tanks. Storage solutions range from independent pressurized tanks to integrated membrane type containment systems found aboard LNG carriers.

While cleaner-burning fuels reduce emissions, improving energy efficiency aboard a vessel can reduce costs as well. The International Energy Efficiency Certificate, which encompasses the International Maritime Organizationís adoption of the Energy Efficiency Design Index and the Ship Energy Efficiency Management Plan, is a means of tackling emissions and fuel cost from the very design of the vessel. Emissions can be reduced through the use of energy-informed operations and existing technologies, such as more efficient engines and propulsion systems, improved hull designs and larger ships. The strategy being adopted by the majority of shipowners to reduce fuel emissions involves energy efficiency. Low-sulfur fuel oils are more expensive than traditional heavy fuel oil. However, through proper introduction of the Ship Energy Efficiency Management Plan, owners can effectively cut operating costs.

Ballast water carried onboard vessels presents yet another environmental concern for the shipping industry because potentially invasive aquatic organisms and pathogens in ballast water pose an environmental risk. In response, international, national and regional regulations have been put in place to control the introduction of nonindigenous aquatic organisms. In the U.S., owners face a challenging environment for managing ballast water discharge because of the need to navigate both federal and state regulations. While there are many technologies available and many more under development, there are limitations associated with each, which makes the choice difficult. There is no one-size-fits-all approach for meeting ballast water treatment requirements.

In an industry where operating margins are subjected to cyclical trends, regulatory drivers have always spurred innovation. Technical advancements in hull, propeller and engine efficiencies as well as waste heat recovery and optimal ballast systems are evolving rapidly. As environmental requirements change, the maritime industry will be challenged to update operational practices and technology deployed on vessels to meet new responsibilities.

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