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Working towards an emission-free shipping industry

Nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions are world travellers, able to drift great distances and cause smog, particulate and ozone pollution in areas far from their source. And that source is often commercial shipping. Cleansing technology and new energy systems are being...
The need for action is pressing. NOx fumes are also a serious factor in climate change. The International Panel on Climate Change reports that, along with carbon monoxide and volatile organic compounds, NOx acts as an indirect greenhouse gas by influencing the ozone.

Shipping a Major Contributor

The development of more efficient propellers and thrusters, like the Azimuth from Rolls Royce Marine, is leading to reduced emissions. © Rolls Royce Marine

“American scientists have concluded that the emissions of nitrogen oxides from ships are as high as the entire amount of emissions coming from the USA,” says Stig Dalsøren of the University of Oslo on the Norwegian Research Council (NRC) website. It’s not only global climate change effects from NOx that cause concern, though. There are local consequences, too. Shipping off coastal Norway and in the Northern Atlantic has been shown to be a primary cause of ground-level ozone and shore acidification.

With the fifth largest shipping fleet in the world, Norway has a significant NOx emission challenge to contend with. Today’s shipping fuels such as marine diesel and “bunker oil” contain particularly large concentrations of nitrogen and sulphur, which create NOx and CO2 when burned. Plus, many of the fleet’s ships are older and use fuel much less efficiently than more modern equipment, adding to the total emissions picture.

Setting a High Standard

Representing a nation that prides itself on its environmental credentials, the Norwegian government has set ambitious goals for helping to clean up the problem. The Ministry of the Environment has declared a target of reducing the nation’s nitrogen oxide emissions to less than 156,000 metric tonnes by 2010.
It won’t be easy. In 2004, the nation’s emissions were measured at 215,000 tonnes, some 59,000 tonnes above the agreed limits of the Gothenburg Protocol. Reaching the goals will be “very tough, thereís no doubt about it”, says Henriette Westrin of the Ministry of the Environment in an interview with TU.no. She continues to say that despite the obstacles, the government is determined to reach the goal of bringing these damaging emissions under control. Norwegian industry, as well, has acknowledged the need to reduce emissions by focusing on greener, fuel-saving equipment, which reduces both pollution and operating costs.

Researching Short and Long-Term Answers

Innovation and new, more efficient shipping technology is the clear path towards reducing and even eliminating NOx emissions in the future.
Experts at the Research Council point out that different technological solutions call for development over different timeframes. Cleaner gas shipping technology is in a more mature phase and can be employed within a five-year perspective, while fuel cells, an extremely promising energy source for ships, are less explored and must therefore be thought of in the longer term. Norway is well advanced in gas technology, and it is poised to be competitive in the fuel cell arena in the future, according to the Research Council analysis.
Major long-term Norwegian research projects like the “Energy-efficient, all-electric ship”, the “Trawler of the Future” program, and the DNV-led joint industry effort “FellowShip” all hold promise for changing the entire basis of onboard ship propulsion and moving towards the goal of creating a completely emission-free fleet. And more is being done. An additional NOK 20 million has been earmarked for NOx reduction programs for the coming year.

Cleaner Transport Today

In the shorter term, something as relatively simple as more efficient propellers can make a big impact on NOx emissions. “We believe also that better propeller technology can contribute quite a bit to reducing energy use and exhaust emissions from the fishing fleet and the offshore fleet,” said Knut Helge Osmundsvåg of the NRC in an interview with Moderne Shipping.
Rolls-Royce Marine is working in this direction, and has recently developed a system in which water flow from the propeller over the rudder is vastly improved. The technology features a hubcap attached to the propeller hub, with a bulb incorporated in a rudder fitted with a twisted leading edge. The resulting loss of friction provides better steering and control while reducing fuel consumption and therefore minimizing emissions.
Motorconsult AS is another Norwegian firm that offers immediate help for today’s fleet in achieving NOx emission reductions. The company has developed a patented emulsion system, “RedSys”, that shows the ability to reduce harmful emissions by up to 31 percent with a water to oil ratio of 1:7.

Emissions treatment systems such as deNOx from Yarwil are being developed to meet stringent new environmental standards. © Wilh. Wilhelmsen ASA

A Line of Projects

MAROFF, the Maritime and Offshore Operations branch of the Research Council, currently supports four projects working to reduce emissions from the shipping fleet. These efforts are directed at replacing diesel motors with gas equipment and employing fuel cells to produce electricity that in turn drive electric motors. This promises to be a very effective method of reducing pollution. Gas equipment reduces NOx emissions by almost 90 percent and CO2 by around 25 percent. Fuel cells produce no NOx whatsoever.
As far as emission-cleaning technology, Selective Catalytic Reduction (SCR) is an area of study that promises to be effective in reducing NOx emissions after treatment of exhaust. MAROFF has given support to a project that is part of a larger cooperative effort exploring the SCR method.

Leading Companies Team Up

“The air will be cleaner because two major Norwegian companies are confronting the environmental challenges facing the maritime industry,” writes Ingar Skaug of Wilh. Wilhelmsen ASA on MarineNorway.no. Skaug is commenting on the joint effort by Wilhelmsen and Yara International to offer “the first complete solution able to eliminate polluting nitrogen oxides (NOx)”.
Yarwil, as the new joint venture will be called, will offer a range of environmental solutions to the global shipping market, including its flagship product deNOx. CEO Thorleif Enger of Yara underlined the Norway-based firm’s experience in the field. “We are Europe’s leading producer of environmental products for NOx treatment, and we already remove more NOx than Norway’s total emissions of these substances.”
“NOx treatment is already one of our fastest growing markets, with a 35 percent increase in the first half of 2007. Through the cooperation with Wilhelmsen, we’re expanding our commitment to deNOx for the maritime sector, which we see has a big potential,” he says.
The deNOx process involves present-day catalytic technology, which is currently in use in the transport sector in Norway and Sweden. First, a quality urea solution is added to the hot exhaust fumes from the engine, then the mix passes through a catalytic converter where NOx from the exhaust reacts with the solution and the result is harmless nitrogen and water vapour.

Norway has Europe’s highest emissions of nitrogen oxides (NOx) per capita with the coastal fleet and the oil industry being responsible for over half of them. The Norwegian environmental watchdog Bellona fights for better regulations and financial support to battle NOx pollution. © Wikipedia Commons.

Praise and Criticism

Norwegian environmental group Bellona is one of the concerned actors praising the Yarwil effort: “This will contribute to catalytic technology on board ship taking a long and important step in the direction of large scale production, and therefore reduce costs,” says Bellona’s technology advisor Konrad Putz, writing on Bellona’s website.
“International shipping is a weakly-regulated industry where available environmental technology is only used to a limited degree,” he adds. Both Yara and Wilhelmsen are strong international companies, he notes, and are in a good position to deliver NOx-cleaning technology worldwide, creating a positive effect on the overall emissions picture.
Bellona also has some criticisms of the government’s efforts to get industry to take the reduction of NOx emissions seriously. Referring to the administration’s 2007 introduction of a NOK 15 per kilo NOx emissions charge, Marius Holm of Bellona is unconvinced of its effectiveness. “A fee of NOK 15 will not lead to our fulfilling the Gothenborg Protocol,” he says. The shipping industry holds a different view of the tax, however, referring to it as a competitive disadvantage for the Norwegian maritime cluster.
In the NOx reduction battle, “We are only tiny steps closer to meeting the goals,” Holm states, pointing out that it is the offshore section of the shipping industry that contributes a full third of all of the nation’s NOx emissions, so this is an area the government should focus on. There are “great possibilities for emission reductions” in that sector, he writes.