1 January 2020. That’s the date set by the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) to fully implement the global sulphur limit of 0.50% m/m (mass/mass) in 2020. And it’s around the corner.

Read the literature: The prescribed reduction in the sulphur content of fuel oil used by ships is a significant cut from the 3.5% m/m global limit currently in place and it demonstrates the IMO’s clear commitment to ensuring shipping meets its environmental obligations. But what is the reality for you if you are concerned about your fuel quality, cost and availability and want to keep within the new proposed guidelines?

It’s a fact that “16 of the largest ships really emit as much SOx as 800 million cars” and then you read that “pollution from the world’s 90,000 cargo ships leads to 60,000 deaths a year and costs up to $330bn per year in lung and heart disease related health care costs.” That was also from the Guardian newspaper. Capping the sulphur content in fuels is an existentially necessary measure and it is little wonder we are all looking for solutions to cut emissions.

Many of those involved in the maritime industry talk about solutions involving high-tech hardware. Exhaust gas scrubbers, for instance, are top of mind. Even if regulators and environmentalists often suggest that the only way to better efficiency and lower emissions is high-tech hardware, these technologies represent significant capex and costs must be taken into account for things to change. I appreciate we are in the business of fuel treatment solutions but it doesn’t stop me from saying with real conviction that there is a real benefit to be had from looking at what goes into the engine, not just at the engine itself and the exhaust system. Not that we don’t see hardware as an effective solution, it’s just that achieving the goal of better efficiency and lower emissions will be easier and more cost-effective if we use a mix of solutions. Especially if the results are there. It’s synergies we as an industry should be looking at.

Look at the facts, culled from a thousand reports, to understand that shipping contributions to European coastal air quality degradation are real and that maritime transport is a significant and increasing source of air pollutants. “Around 15% of global anthropogenic NOx and 5-8% of global SOx emissions are attributable to oceangoing ships (Eyring et al., 2005; Corbett et al., 2007) and nearly 70% of ship emissions are estimated to occur within 400 km of land,” is just a more scientific way of saying that business as usual is over and something has to be done.

The SECA regulation that went into effect on 1 January 2015 was a major step towards addressing the health and environmental issues caused by sulphur emissions. And more SECA zones are planned. The regulation also created new challenges and costs for the industry, from increased operational risks as a result of having to switch over between HFO and LSGO to variations in fuel quality and related incompatibility issues. One corollary was a rise in loss of power incidents registered by Coast Guards.

If the aftermath of 2015 is any indication, the industry is bound to face more risk and uncertainty as regulators plot a course into the new 2020 reality. The rising demand for low sulphur fuels will come at quite a high cost in economic and financial terms: Refining methods for ultra-low sulphur fuels for shipping will up prices by about 30% vs HFO. As the market now becomes even more fragmented, we will see even wider fluctuations in fuel quality and availability. And along with that, the risk of problems related to fuel incompatibility is likely to further increase as well. There are other aspects that can’t be neglected: Desulphurisation compromises the fuel’s inherent lubricity, leading to increased component wear and potential damage, and the natural sulphur content was also a deterrent to the growth of microorganisms.

As new regulations raise concerns about performance and compatibility, and open the door for high-tech solutions, it’s worthwhile to keep in mind that addressing new constraints while cutting opex and emissions isn’t just about increasing capex in hardware.

Aderco is in the business of preventing these risks and have successfully been doing so since 1981. With proven fuel treatment solutions that address sludge, water, catfines, bacterial growth and other issues while ensuring a cleaner, more efficient burn that protects engines, minimises emissions and saves money.