Embracing innovation as the solution to the growing ‘slops challenge’. By Vincent Favier

With estimates of illegal slops disposal reaching at least 3000 incidents each year in European waters alone, according to The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the scale and environmental impact on a global basis could be massive. Reports of illegal waste dumping are prevalent in the industry press, and while perpetrators are being fined and charged, the number of cases is not diminishing. Large scale, heavily polluting cases of oil spills are well documented, but it is the smaller spills, often going under the radar, which are causing unknown damage.

The International Maritime Organization’s (IMO) MARPOL Convention 73/78 was adopted in the 1970’s to prevent pollution of the marine environment by ships – from operational or accidental causes – and while many ship owners dispose of their slops in accordance with this legislation, and also the European Directive  59/2000 regulation, a minority do not. Indeed two recent high-profile slop dumping incidents have resulted in crew facing felony charges and have left the companies with significant fines, reaching up to $1,000,000.

Slops and sludges are a hydrocarbon-rich industrial waste, produced in various parts of a ship’s operations, including tank cleaning, purifying fuels and using ballast water. They are an unavoidable waste product of all voyages.

The volume of slops and sludges a vessel produces depends on its operations, the size of the vessel, its maintenance and age, as well as various other factors.

This waste material is considerable: the global fleet uses an estimated 350 million tonnes of fuel oil to function every year. This results in an estimated tens of million tonnes of slops generated each year, all of which needs to be disposed of in line with strict regulations, to ensure minimal impact on the environment.

Disposing of slops sustainably has not been without its challenges. The recent low cost of crude oil has encouraged markets such as the construction sector – a traditionally reliable market for slops collectors to sell to – to invest in purer, virgin fuels. Without this channel, disposing of slops has become more difficult, and more expensive. Crucially, there is also now a significant build-up of slops in ports with many port authorities not having the adequate reception or collection facilities to manage them, and tanks are becoming physically full. The situation is interrupting shipping operations in ports, causing downtime, as well as creating environmental and sustainability issues within local port areas and communities.

To provide a viable solution to this mounting issue, Ecoslops has developed a unique technology to sustainably regenerate slops into valuable new fuels and light bitumen, which can be sold back into the market, creating a sustainable cycle.

Based on a micro-refining process, the technology works in the following way: firstly, to optimise distillation, the slops are pre-treated. They are heated, decanted and using high-speed vertical centrifugation, the water, hydrocarbons and sediments are separated before the refining and distillation process. As the reprocessing of the water from the slops is fully integrated within the treatment process, the water is then depolluted using the latest techniques. The water is returned to its natural environment in line with relevant environmental laws. After the water and sediment is removed, the slops are sent to the P2R vacuum distillation column, where they are heated. Under vacuum conditions, the hydrocarbons and heavy molecules are vaporised, and at the end of the distillation process several fuels are produced, including naphtha, fuel (GO and IFO) and light bitumen.

This technology provides a solution at every level of the slops disposal chain. It helps ports to improve their sustainability profile, reduce the environmental impact within their local community, as well as enhance their competitiveness and reputation. As the waste from the vessels is being appropriately treated, and at a good price, ship owners can also improve their reputation by creating a sustainability cycle for their slops with the regenerated product being sold back into the market. Traditional slops collectors also benefit, as Ecoslops purchases the product at a fair price, and alleviates the pressures on storage capacity.

Over 17,000 tonnes of slops have been successfully regenerated into fuel oil and sold back into the fuel supply chain since Ecoslops’ first micro-refinery in the Port of Sinès commenced industrial production in 2015. Ecoslops has also announced that it is on track to meet its annual target of producing at least 30,000 tons of regenerated slops in 2017 from the Port of Sinès.

In September 2016, Ecoslops signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Total, the international oil and gas company, to establish a slops processing plant within the refinery in La Mede, Marseille, further validating the viability of the technology and Ecoslops’ business model. The aim of this unit will be to process slops unloaded in the Port of Marseille and neighboring ports. In conjunction with this, Ecoslops has continued to develop other projects, particularly in Northern Europe, and is reiterating its objective of signing deals for three new sites by the end of 2017.

With shipping’s sustainability profile, and impact on climate change as well as other environmental issues under real scrutiny, the problem of illegal waste disposal is an issue that the industry needs to address urgently. The unknown quantity of the pollution caused cannot be ignored, and sustainable solutions are now available to help tackle this problem. Only through new innovations, such as Ecoslops’ technology, can we make the legal and sustainable disposal of slops more attractive to ship owners and operators, and tackle the numerous smaller-scale, deliberate spills that don’t receive media attention. The issue is now being recognised within the industry, and with support from majors such as Total, real progress is being made to combat this environmental threat.

vincent-favierVincent Favier, CEO Ecoslops
ECOSLOPS has developed a unique technology to transform oil residues from shipping (slops and sludge) into new recycled marine fuels. The Company’s ambition is to establish itself as major player in the treatment of marine hydrocarbon waste. The ECOSLOPS solution is based on a perfect knowledge of the processes of collection, treatment and recycling of slops and sludges. ECOSLOPS offers an economic and ecologic solution to port infrastructure, waste collectors and ship owners through industrial scale treatment unit they develop and operate. The first industrial unit is based in Sinès in Portugal.