The number of merchant ships with exhaust gas cleaning systems either installed or on order is approaching 1,000 ships worldwide, according to a survey by the Exhaust Gas Cleaning Systems Association.
As of 31 May 2018, the number of ships with “scrubbers” installed or planned totaled 983.
The survey noted that the number adoption of scrubbers seams to be rapidly accelerating ahead of the IMO’s 2020 low sulphur fuel rules’ entry into force.
The impending regulation will require ships to burn fuel with a sulphur content no greater than .5%, compared to the 3.5% currently, or install “scrubbers” that remove sulfur as the fuel is burned. Ship owners also have the choice to burn an alternative fuel such as liquified natural gas in order to comply.
A slew of recent reports indicates that major ship operators, including Spliethoff, Frontline, DHT and Star Bulk have now opted for scrubbers. One of the ‘big’ container companies has also confirmed it will use scrubbers as part of its 2020 compliance plan.
The EGCSA says that until relatively recently, the largest installed exhaust handling capacity has been for engine powers in the region of 25 to 30MW. However, the latest data shows that this has now been exceeded by a retrofitted hybrid system for a 72MW container ship engine.
The group noted that large capacity scrubbers are not just confined to retrofits either as the maximum size new building installation is a hybrid system for a 65MW engine.
Speaking of newbuildings, the survey found that just 37% of scrubbers in use or planned were installed on new ships during construction, as opposed to 63% through retrofit.
In terms of installation, the survey showed that nearly 60% of all retrofits and newbuild installations took place in Asian yards. Not surprisingly, this increases to nearly 85% when only accounting for newbuild installs.
While scrubbers have a popular choice in the RoRo, ferry, and cruise sectors in the past, ahead of 2020 the bulk carrier sector is currently adopting exhaust gas cleaning at the quickest pace, followed by container ships and tankers.
In each of three top sectors currently, retrofit open loop systems make up the bulk of installations. In fact, open loop scrubbing is the preferred and simplest scrubbing systems and favored by ship crews.
While closed loop and hybrid systems are available for ships operating in enclosed bodies of water or where discharges are restricted by local regulation, the ECGSA suggests the alternative of switching to low sulphur fuel for the port stay where open loop operation is not economically feasible. “The cost impact is likely to be limited as over 90% of fuel consumption is during full away at sea, which is where the financial benefits really accrue,” the ECGSA said.
Finally, the EGCSA said it also believes despite surging demand for scrubbers, yard capacity is not an issue going forward based on current scrubber demand. However, constraints such as the availability of laser scanning specialists and experienced installation teams may make it harder for owners and operators to schedule installations.