The big installation squeeze
Even after choosing your sulphur compliance option and selecting the type of scrubber you want, installations presents a host of other challenges, writes Stevie Knight.
As with Donald Rumsfeld’s Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, there are known unknowns and unknown unknowns when it comes to installing scrubbers. Even the challenges we are already aware of could offer a steep learning curve for many ship owners.
First, there’s the squeeze on facilities. As Erik Haveman, global sales director of exhaust gas cleaning systems at Alfa Laval points out, finding both a drydock slot and installation company to support a tight retrofit schedule “could be a challenge” given the time pressure caused by the global fuel sulphur rule from 2020.
The concern is echoed by Devon Smith of scrubber supplier Pacific Green Technologies. “Installations are going to be limited by drydock space and manufacturing capacity in general.”
Both companies believe they have a robust strategy. Haveman expects Alfa Laval’s longstanding experience with major shipyards and installation companies to smooth the path. Pacific Green believes its manufacturing capacity with PowerChina will give it ‘a preferential call’ on drydocking capacity controlled by the Chinese state-owned company’s sister organisations.
Despite the assurances of suppliers, there will likely be tremendous pressure on slots. But in-service installations could offer relief for those caught up in the drydock squeeze. Don Gregory, chairman of the Exhaust Gas Cleaning Systems Association (EGCSA), an industry group representing scrubber suppliers, expects specialist in-water installation companies to find a place in the installation chain. In-service installation could be a cheaper option if work can’t be coordinated with regular maintenance.
However, not everything has to be fitted at the same time, or even in the same place. Vasilis Potidis, a scrubber retrofit engineering specialist with installation company Cleanship Solutions notes that some elements, below the waterline, usually have to be installed during drydocking. But he adds: “A lot can be done alongside on the quay and much of the installation can be continued on the run with fitters onboard.”
It’s a theme taken up by Gregory. “Ideally, you might need to take a ship out of service for only two days. But you may well need a riding crew of four or five for 12 weeks prior to that, doing preparatory work. Then you’ll have the cutting for the main fit and even after that the riding crew stays on for another six weeks.”
Despite occasionally needing choreography worthy of the Russian State ballet, Gregory believes that such installations are generally possible.
“The important thing is going to be getting the right pieces in the right numbers at the right stops,” he says. “Your process logistics and project management both have to be really high class to deal with it. Occasionally you do get a change of orders but even with a vessel on the spot market, it should still be possible.”
Several companies are aiming to solve a few headaches while also picking up a new revenue stream. For example, engineering consultant Intermarine has recently invested in roomy facilities at Portland in the UK, offering a complete retrofit package which runs from 3D laser scanning and design to installation. Group president Slawomir Kalicki says its new home is positioned to capture marine traffic passing through the English Channel.
But however well companies prepare for retrofits, there is a certain amount of learning through experience. Neil Anderson of LAB says: “We have to put faith in these installation companies, but there is a learning curve here.
“For example, there have been issues along the path of the acid wash, not just on the unit itself. There can be some corrosion around the sea chest where seawater is pumped out, so you need to make sure that there’s added protection in this area.”
Because of these challenges and to make sure they don’t fall through the cracks between parties, LAB is looking to develop an approved installer programme that he believes will clarify roles and responsibilities.
Delivery and installation aren’t the only areas with potential for delays. According to Gregory class approvals of scrubber installations are “hanging around the 16-week mark” and may get even longer as 2020 nears.
Anders Skibdal, CEO of Danish scrubber designer Pureteq agrees, adding that class societies will find it hard to manage the approval process with their present level of manpower.
Gregory adds: “It’s worth asking your manufacturer if they’ve got a class society on side.”
Even with a relatively straightforward open-loop scrubber installation, there is a lot of guidance that varies from manufacturer to manufacturer, making for some difficult fitting and a bit of uncertainty, says Potidis.
For example, according to DNV GL the overboard should be placed at a point 10 times the pipe’s diameter below the lower waterline: so a 200mm bore pipe will have to be 2m down. That will not always be easy. Nor is it always mentioned in guidance from other class societies or manufacturers, he says.
Then there’s the washwater quality, with monitored values including pH, PAH (oil in water), turbidity and temperature. However, Potidis explains that according to IMO’s guidelines for exhaust gas cleaning systems (MEPC.259(68)), the pH at discharge should be over 6.5 or a minimum of 6.5 when measured 4m from the output point (with the ship stationary).
“It could demand very large amounts of supply water to be pumped from the sea chest to make sure the output is compliant,” he explains, adding that some manufacturers include a special washwater treatment unit to comply.
Scrubbers will also increase exhaust back pressure, which can affect the thermodynamics of the engine. If it does, then fans need to be installed, meaning more space, more complexity and more power.
Gregory explains that although scrubbers will usually be most appropriate for 20MW-plus ships, there are still a range of niggling sizing questions to address. “For example, you might have to ask if there’s spare capacity for extra fans or pumps,” he says. That might not seem much – pumps typically draw around 0.5% of total power – but it could mean the difference between installing another genset or starting up another engine.
Further, he adds, “although these aren’t small vessels, some will still need more space than you can find in the funnel, especially if you are configuring for multiple inlets”.
The old chestnut of who pays for the installation when the ship is on hire remains unanswered, and Gregory expects links to blossom between charterers and owners. Big chartering companies including Cargill, Glencore and Trafigura are already acknowledging the value of making arrangements with owners to install the technology and reap the financial benefits of running ships on [presumably] lower-priced heavy fuel oil
Anderson from LAB agrees: “The charter market presents quite a complex set of issues and we’re trying to understand it. In some cases, it’s not even easy to see who’ll be the customer here. However, I do think there will be quite a number more tie-ins, where charterer goes back to the shipowner and says, ‘let’s do a deal’.”
Financing may be key, but it is will not be the only challenge faced by ship owners planning to install scrubbers. Even the list of ‘known unknowns’ is long, and while owners can prepare for these, the potentially more troublesome unknown unknowns will only emerge as the installed base grows.
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