Scrubbers vs black carbon: More research needed

Scrubbers may be less useful in cleaning black carbon from high sulphur fuel than previously thought Scrubbers may be less useful in cleaning black carbon from high sulphur fuel than previously thought

As Arctic campaigners urge the industry not to rely on scrubbers to tackle black carbon emissions, an update to an influential report has concluded that more research is needed on their efficacy.

The original 2012 report – which drew conclusions on the efficacy and practicability of measures to reduce black carbon emissions – noted that scrubbers could reduce black carbon by 50-70% (for ‘scrubbed’ high-sulphur fuel) or 20-55% (for low-sulphur fuels).

In the updated report, presented to the IMO’s Pollution Prevention and Response (PPR) subcommittee earlier this month by the Canadian delegation, one of the original authors amends those conclusions. Dr Daniel Lack notes that, after a review of modern studies, the lower limit of black carbon removal for high-sulphur fuel can be placed at around 20%, with a mid-range value of 45% - below the lowest estimate of 50% in the previous study.

However, the main conclusion of the report – which studied several other abatement options besides scrubbers – was that more research is needed. Lack suggested that future scrubber studies include black carbon reduction analysis.

The update came as PPR agreed reporting protocols and measurement methods for voluntary studies to collect black carbon data as well as urging delegates to conduct studies and submit relevant data to the next PPR meeting. But campaigners including the Clean Arctic Alliance argued that the decisions did not go far enough.

“The Clean Arctic Alliance is disappointed with the lack of commitment to start discussions of measures for dealing with black carbon impacts on the Arctic during PPR5,” said lead advisor Dr Sian Prior. “That said, exploring the issue intersessionally should allow member states to consider the various abatement measures on the table, and hopefully rule out those that are neither appropriate or feasible.”

Prior argues against the use of scrubbers either to meet the 2020 sulphur cap or to reduce black carbon. “The Clean Arctic Alliance is urging Arctic shipping operators against the installation of scrubbers,” she said. “The best protection for the Arctic will be delivered by a move by shipping industry away from heavy fuel oils and towards low sulphur diesel or distillate fuels. Not only will this remove the HFO spill risk, it will reduce emissions of both SOx and black carbon.”

The 2017 update of study, titled Investigation of appropriate control measures (abatement technologies) to reduce Black Carbon emissions from international shipping, confirms that the black carbon abatement technologies with the greatest potential are (in descending order): LNG, diesel particulate filters, fuel emulsions and scrubbers.

While technological maturity is cited as a drawback in the case of emulsified fuels and diesel particular filters for high-sulphur fuels, Lack noted: “Implementation of any of the top-rated technologies, without new black carbon emission regulations, will rely on robust financial returns on investment from reduced fuel consumption or compliance with current emissions regulation.”

The issue of black carbon is particularly sensitive in Arctic areas as its particles can magnify temperature increases, accelerating any warming effect.

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