Nano scrubbers make waves in maritime at cost of climate

Ship owners may be able to avoid investing in new engines for new fuels, as nanotechnology emerges which allows vessels to slash emissions, while using existing bunker fuel supplies. While the industry will relish the monetary savings and hail the reduced sulfur emissions, if taken up, this technology will stunt the rate at which the maritime industry reaches climate targets.

Daphne Technology has developed a new closed-loop nanotechnology-based scrubber, which will allow cargo ships to comply with new International Maritime Organization emission regulations, while still using Heavy Fuel Oil into the 2020s.

Sea transportation accounts for 90% of the worlds international trade, and emissions are predicted to increase between 50% and 250% by 2050. Air pollution from international shipping is estimated to cause 50,000 premature deaths per year in Europe, at a cost of €58 billion to society, with additional impacts of acid rain causing significant environmental damage.

New regulations will see a global sulfur cap cut from 3.5% of emissions to 0.5%, with tighter restrictions in specific regions, and nitrogen emissions must fall by up to 80%. With penalties for non-compliance expected to include jail terms, heavy fines and banning orders, this is set to impact up to 70,000 ships, opening a market to those who can retrofit existing vessels with emission reducing technology.

This is further opened by the expense of transitioning to fuel with a lower sulfur content, with Goldman Sachs estimating the required transition to cost around $250 billion per year, which Daphne predicts will be cut by $20 billion if it’s SulPure system is adopted on an industry-wide scale.

Daphne Technology’s SulPure system uses a three-stage closed loop system including a pre-filtration unit to remove particulate matter; a patented nanotechnology chamber using electrons to eliminate sulfur and nitrogen based gases by 99.3% and 85% respectively; and a purification stage to neutralize acidic gases, forming solid particles and allowing solid waste to recovered as ammonium sulfate which can be sold as commercial fertilizer.

This closed loop system addresses the two most prominent criticisms of existing open-loop scrubbers as there is no discharge of waste, and the waste collected from the process can be used commercially rather than simply discarded.

Without the need to switch fuel, a substantial reduction of operating costs will be seen as the maritime industry attempts to reach new standards. SulPure systems are retrofitted onto the chimneys of existing vessels, without the requirement of drydocking, claiming to cost 50% less than typical scrubber systems. With fertilizer as a byproduct, Daphne predicts the pay-back period of its system to be around 12 months.

Most alternatives push either Ammonia as an alternative fuel, a system we know works with zero change to existing ships engines, and hydrogen fuel cells with an electric drive. Either of these routes may make the fuel more expensive, but leave the process without the need for further improvement.

Pilots of the SulPure technology are currently lined up for use in the Baltic sea, with interest shown by giants such as Saudi Aramco Energy Ventures which owns a significant number of vessels which will require alterations, with a $5 million investment in early-stage development of the system.

SulPure can theoretically be paired with carbon capture systems, although success of this expensive technology has so far been limited, with reports showing emissions end up being cut by as little as 10%. While reductions in nitrogen and sulfur emissions is a positive step, the maritime industry remains accountable for 2.5% of the global CO2 emissions contributing towards climate change. Strategies have been put in place to reduce these by 40% by 2030 through addressing energy efficiency of new ships, although hard regulations for sulfur and nitrogen have not yet been enforced.

While the SulPure technology is positive in reducing emissions in general, vessels will now be able to continue to operate without making alterations to their engines. Some reports have even suggested that CO2 emissions will increase as much as 2%, with the power required to run the SulPure system.

The Exhaust Gas Cleaning System Association (EGCSA) has acknowledged that carbon emissions must be capped within the maritime industry but expects the demand for scrubbers to continue for at least the next 30 years.