2015 and the new SOx limits are not far away

View of ship’s funnel equipped with Hamworthy Krystallon scrubber View of ship’s funnel equipped with Hamworthy Krystallon scrubber
Industry Database

'The Motorship' spoke to Hamworthy Krystallon’s managing director Sigurd Jenssen about the company’s plans, and how, among all the discussion about distillate fuel oils and alternative fuel sources, it sees the future for exhaust gas after-treatment.

Jenssen reports a high level of interest in how they are going to deal with the lower sulphur limits in emission control areas (ECAs) from 2015 among those shipowners who are starting to realise that 2015 will come around quickly, and that they will need to prepare. Without doubt the cost of low-sulphur fuels will rise dramatically, and even at today’s price differentials, Jenssen believes that installing scrubbers is an attractive investment for owners operating within one of the current ECAs.

Hamworthy Krystallon says it is, of course, very pleased to have secured what it believes to be the first commercial contract for SOx scrubbers for the Messina newbuildings at DSME.

There are some 4,000 ships operating in the North Sea and Baltic, and perhaps the same number in North America. Many of them already burn MDO or MGO, but switching all of them to MGO will bring about a major increase in demand. Jenssen points out that he is no expert on the refinery business, but he has yet to hear anyone say that the industry will be anywhere near ready to meet this demand.

“We are talking about a major investment for the refineries, with a long lead time,” he says. “It might create a nice growth in shipping demand though, since it would probably be difficult to expand capacity at the existing refineries in Europe.”

Should the price differential move to $500/ton, which Jenssen believes is quite possible, it would more than double the fuel costs, and risk putting people out of business, so doing nothing is not really an option. He would also like to see research into the overall CO2 footprint of MGO production, which he believes must itself take a lot of energy, compared to the use of residual fuels which are, effectively, a by-product of the distillation process.

Multiple methods

The Krystallon acquisition is, in reality, another string to Hamworthy’s bow, because associated company Hamworthy Oil and Gas is already active in LNG systems, which many see as another answer to the emissions question. Jenssen cites this as evidence of the complementary nature of adding the Krystallon scrubber to the company’s environmental portfolio.

He says: “I tend to believe that we will see a multitude of methods for ensuring compliance. Gaseous fuels will certainly be a solution in some cases, particularly for vessels operating out of a single port or on scheduled runs with LNG bunkering facilities. But the rules apply to all ships, and I believe retrofitting LNG fuel systems will prove challenging in many cases.”

The economical feasibility of universally adopting LNG is another question. Jenssen quotes figures from Det Norske Veritas, indicating that the current price differential between HFO and LNG is about USD 450/ton. “That will have to come down by a considerable amount”, he says, “ especially when you consider that there is also an extra cost for both the engines and the fuel systems.”

He points out that the Krystallon scrubber design has proved its effectiveness on the existing installations – the Pride of Kent unit has now achieved more than 30,000 operating hours, and continues to provide the same performance. Hamworthy Krystallon recently carried out a verification test on this installation with excellent results.

There is, however, scope for further development and optimisation. With this in mind, Hamworthy has invested considerable money and effort into a complete scrubber system at its facilities in Norway. This test and demonstration system offers possibilities for running on both boiler flue gas and diesel exhaust. Jenssen believes Hamworthy Krystallon is the only supplier with a full-scale permanent test plant.

Worldwide interest

Jenssen is encouraged by the level of worldwide interest from environmentally-conscious shipowners, which he says has increased over the past 12 months. He says these cannot be pinned down to one region or one specific vessel type. Enquiries cover both retrofits and newbuildings.

“2015 will come around quickly,” he says, “and there is not all that much time for an owner who would like to gain some operational experience before committing to a wider implementation.”

Perhaps the greatest interest comes from firstly small owners/operators who see that their fuel bill may double, and secondly from large owners who want to gain operational experience. Despite this, the only owner Jenssen believes to have placed a commercial contract up to now, Ignazio Messina, would not really fit into either of those categories.

He believes that the number of scrubber systems now on the market indicate a general acceptance of the technology as such, which is, after all, very similar to an inert gas system. Jenssen reports that the main doubt from potential customers concerns the efficacy of the system in fresh or brackish waters. This, he believes, may be based on a misunderstanding. The main driver in the process is the alkalinity levels of the water, not the salinity. “We are therefore able to run the system in, for example the Baltic, and still provide compliance with the IMO and EU regulations,” he adds.

Research installation

Hamworthy Krystallon’s research laboratories, which double as a training centre, include a full-scale inert gas generator, a nitrogen generator and two SOx scrubbers coupled to a 500kW diesel engine. “This means that we can test both on a diesel exhaust and a boiler exhaust, using the inert gas generator, says Jenssen. “Current research is focused on reducing the footprint and improving the particulate matter capture. We feel that the SOx reduction capability has been well-proven already, so that is not really an issue.”

The test units are equipped with plexiglass windows, so that the different stages of the process are visible. Although, of course, the actual SOx removal process cannot be seen, the PM capture clearly shows as a greying of the water. It provides an effective illustration from the operator’s point of view of how the system works. “We have very good experience from holding training courses on the inert gas generator there, and intend to do the same on the exhaust gas scrubbers, once the field population increases,” says Jenssen.

Despite the low maintenance requirement for the Hamworthy Krystallon system – the pumps are the only moving parts – Jenssen believes it is beneficial to train and familiarise crews, particularly with respect to the monitoring equipment, with which they will have little experience.

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