Katrina McDonnell takes a look at navigating the journey to cleaner air

The maritime industry is facing increasing pressure to reduce emissions of harmful pollutants of nitrogen oxide (NOx) and sulphur oxide (SOx) from ships’ exhaust gas. From 1st January 2020, the International Maritime Organization’s (IMO) will reduce the global limit for sulphur in fuel oil from 3.5 per cent m/m to 0.50 per cent m/m.

While it can be difficult to measure emissions released by marine vessels out in the open ocean, their impact can be felt both on land and at sea. A large cruise ship can produce as much NOx as 421,153 cars and the equivalent sulphur dioxide as 376 million cars1. Long-term exposure to pollutants emitted by ships not only have environmental implications but can cause health issues for those working in close proximity to the ships as well as the communities living near ports and coastal areas with a concentrated influx of vessels.

Both national and international bodies have taken numerous measures to reduce emissions of harmful pollutants at sea. Introduced in 1997, MARPOL Annex VI limits ships’ main air pollutants (including NOx and SOx), while in the UK, the draft Clean Air Strategy 2018 lays out the government’s plan to introduce a Clean Maritime Council to drive uptake of cleaner technologies and greener fuels to reduce emissions of harmful pollutants.

With the spotlight on them, marine companies need to consider alternative ways to reduce emissions now to avoid potential sanctions for non-compliance in the near future. What can be learned from the many other UK businesses across sectors including transport, construction and public sector that have responded to the increasing focus on air quality by adopting cleaner burning alternative fuels to reduce emissions of harmful pollutant? How exactly do alternative fuels help to lower emissions, and what environmental and performance benefits can they offer to maritime businesses looking to improve the sustainability of their operations?

Reducing the environmental impact of maritime operations
While a low emission future cannot be achieved overnight, there are a number of steps businesses can take to minimise their impact on air quality. Alternative fuels are powering the transition to lower emission mobility, with a mix of biofuels, hydrogen and LNG amongst others offering a solution for a cleaner marine industry. These fuels can offer an immediate solution to reduce levels of pollutants such as NOx and particulate matter (PM) from sea vessels, presenting an opportunity for early adopters to drive the transition to a low emission future.

Paraffinic gas-to-liquid (GTL) fuels, such as Shell GTL Fuel can support marine businesses to meet the requirements of emissions regulation immediately. Rather than being derived from crude oil, GTL fuels are created from natural gas using the Fischer-Tropsch manufacturing process. The Fischer-Tropsch process produces more consistent and uniform molecules compared to conventional crude oil refining.

This means that GTL fuel has more efficient combustion properties and near-zero levels of sulphur, resulting in lower emissions of pollutants – such as NOx and PM – than conventional fuels. When used for marine applications, Shell GTL Fuel can reduce NOx emissions by six to 13 per cent and PM by 15 to 60 per cent. The fuel satisfies both NOx and SOx emissions limit set out in MARPOL Annex VI as an ISO 8217 fuel, and does not need further NOx testing as required by other types of fuels under the regulation.

The fuel is also classified as non-toxic and readily biodegradable, which means it disperses naturally within weeks in the unusual case of a spill – a huge advantage for vessels operating in areas of environmental sensitivity. In vessels running on heavy duty diesel engines, Shell GTL Fuel can be introduced without requiring any modifications to existing engines or operational maintenance.

Smooth sailing
As well as the clear environmental and low-emission advantages, alternative fuels can provide additional performance benefits to create a more pleasant environment for passengers on cruise liners or transport vessels. The more uniform combustion of paraffinic fuels means that they can significantly reduce engine noise – by as much as eight decibels with Shell GTL Fuel. The fuel is also odourless, a major advantage for leisure passengers who don’t want their journey to be tainted by the strong smell of diesel.

Certas Energy, the exclusive supplier of Shell GTL Fuel in the UK, has recently supplied multi-national cruise liner MV Black Watch with Shell GTL Fuel to immediately reduce the vessel’s emissions of harmful air pollutants, improve air quality for its passengers and create a more relaxing, enjoyable experience for customers.

Uptake of alternative fuels in the UK is increasing in cruise liners as well as smaller leisure craft. Princess Motor Yacht Sales, worldwide distributor of luxury yacht brand, Princess, recently demonstrated its commitment to the marine environment by fuelling a low emission journey home from the London Boat Show with Shell GTL Fuel. Certas Energy fuelled the luxury Princess 43, Princess 55 and Princess 65 yachts before they sailed back to Swanwick from the show. The Princess 65 yacht, which is valued at £2.4 million, is powered by a Twin MAN engine and the three vessels were fuelled with a combined 10,000 litres of Shell GTL.

A cleaner, safer marine industry
A recent article in The Guardian2 highlighted how plans for a new cruise ship terminal in London are coming under scrutiny for the project’s potential impact on local air quality through NOx, PM and SOx emissions. Clearly the impact of marine emissions is no longer out at sea, and the pressure is on to find a workable solution that can have an immediate impact.

Alternative fuels offer a practical solution for reducing harmful pollutants and can help the marine sector meet air quality and emissions standards for cities and inland waterways. With emissions regulation tightening, there is an opportunity for fleets large and small to embrace this immediate solution without the need for significant investment in new equipment.

The marine industry has a vital role to play in helping to reduce harmful emissions for the benefit of the environment, their passengers and workforce, and our coastal communities.

As the exclusive supplier of Shell GTL Fuel in the UK, Certas Energy is committed to supporting the marine industry work towards a cleaner, greener future without compromising performance or profitability. By making smarter, more informed fuel choices, businesses have an opportunity to create a cleaner, safer environment on land and at sea.

Katrina McDonnell is Head of Speciality Fuels and Services at Certas Energy, the leading independent distributor of fuels and lubricants in the UK. With a range of innovative fuel and lubricant management solutions for commercial businesses, Certas Energy partners with its customers to reduce emissions with alternative fuels, optimise efficiency with high performance lubricants, improve fuel management with telemetry and telematics, reduce costs and stay on the move with HGV/large vehicle fuelling sites, safely store fuel with secure tanks and make it easy to manage fleets with fuel cards.

1 Nabu/Axel Friedrich 2012
2 https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/sep/26/air-pollution-fears-fuel-fight-against-huge-new-london-cruise-ship-terminal-river-thames