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March 25, 2014

New technology to clean the exhaust from ships

In 2014, Haldor Topsoe A/S and its Italian partner Ecospray Technologies S.r.l. launched a groundbreaking catalytic process technology called ECO-Jet that can significantly reduce harmful emissions from marine vessels.

When Topsoe in November 2014 launched a new catalytic process to reduce harmful emissions from ships powered by heavy fuel oil products (bunker fuel), it provided the global shipping industry with an entirely new option to overcome a huge and long-time challenge. The product, named ECO-Jet, was co-developed with Topsoe’s Italian partner Ecospray Technologies S.r.l. and represents more than five years of intense development efforts. It was tested on a large cruise ship, the M/S Queen Victoria, in close collaboration with the vessel’s owner, Carnival Corporation, one of the world’s largest cruise companies. Once installed aboard a ship that uses heavy fuel oil, the process eliminates up to 95% of soot emissions while also removing poisonous hydrocarbons and a wide range of heavy metals including vanadium, iron, nickel, silicon and sodium. Furthermore, the ECO-Jet technology can be combined with a so-called scrubber process that removes sulfur. This is highly necessary, since heavy fuel oil may contain as much as 3.5 per cent sulfur. Sulfur removal is particularly relevant in a number of coastal emission control zones around the world, where the International Maritime Organization (IMO) has recently imposed stricter sulfur limits.

Black smoke and global warming


While pollutant emissions from land-based sources are gradually being reduced in many places around the world, shipping emissions continue to increase. Although air pollution from

ships does not have the direct cause and effect associated with, for example, an oil spill incident, it has a cumulative effect that contributes to air quality problems and to environmental problems such as acid rain and smog. “When they put out to sea, large ships using bunker fuel emit harmful black smoke. This represents a large source of air pollution globally. Emissions of particulate matter, including soot and NOx from ships, are known to cause lung and respiratory disease and lead to smog over cities,” explains Senior Scientist in Topsoe, Keld Johansen. “What’s more, the elementary carbon in ship emissions is graphitic and leads to so-called ‘black carbon’, which has a high global warming impact. Its downfall on glacier surfaces, for example, reinforces ice melting.”

Providing new options for regulators

While land-based diesel vehicles that run on low-sulfur diesel fuel have had the possibility for particulate removal for many years by means of proven technology, the development of a marine version for ships powered by heavy fuel oil has been a major challenge for the maritime industry, because it imposes many extra requirements on engine exhaust systems. Due to the lack of an available and operational technology, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) has been reluctant to impose stringent limits on particulate emissions. “In Europe, North America and an increasing number of other places around the world, a truck working in a harbor area must fulfill stringent particulate emission regulations. But the ship at the quay has no particulate regulatory limitations whatsoever. This is highly paradoxical and is linked to the fact that the shipping industry has lacked efficient particulate matter removal technology,” says Keld.

Operational technology in place

“With Topsoe’s new process, we have an operational technology in place that is able to reduce emissions of soot and heavy metals. The process has interesting environmental perspectives and, for Topsoe, promising commercial perspectives as well,” he continues. As previously mentioned, the heavy fuel oil or bunker fuel used in the shipping sector contains up to 3.5% sulfur and several hundred ppm of different heavy metals such as vanadium, iron, copper, nickel, calcium, cobalt and sodium. According to Keld Johansen, ships could sail on environmentally friendly marine fuel with a content of sulfur less than 0.1%. The problem, however, is that converting to this fuel is still far too expensive: “For many years now, the maritime industry has discussed using environmentally friendly fuel. The problem is that the global refinery capacity is still too small to replace bunker fuel. That is why we have to treat the exhaust from bunker fuel in another way. And with our catalytic process, this is feasible now,” he says. Topsoe’s new emission process is the result of several pilot projects. The largest pilot was the huge cruise ship MS Queen Victoria, which can accommodate more than 2,000 passengers. The ECO-Jet process was tested here with promising results under tough, real-life conditions.

The issue of marine pollution

Ocean-borne commerce has increased steadily over the past few decades and is expected to continue to play a crucial role in the globalized world economy. This growth will add to air quality problems and global climate change risks unless ship emissions are controlled. Today, however, these emissions remain largely unregulated. Local and regional air quality problems associated with ship emissions, especially in coastal areas, are a concern because of their public health impacts, smog and greenhouse gas emission. Port communities are additionally burdened by their proximity to shipping facilities. In particular, air pollution emitted from port-related activities adversely affects the health of port workers and those who live near port areas. Because their air pollutant emissions have been comparatively unregulated, ships and port facilities are now among the world’s most polluting combustion sources per ton of fuel consumed. To address these issues, the shipping and port industries have adopted new technologies to improve fuel quality and ship engine technology, while operational changes at ports are reducing the air pollution from port-related activities. In contrast, the reduction of emissions from commercial marine vessels still represents a major political and legal challenge.

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