Change is needed in the maritime industry, which is at a critical juncture. New rules and regulations will drastically affect the industry as it moves in the direction of going green. But the transition must be achieved in a prudent, cost-effective manner.
Several factors have brought us to this point. Of paramount importance is the rapid increase in greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide, and ozone. These prevent heat from escaping from the atmosphere, which makes the earth warmer. That translates to the global-warming phenomenon. New pollution-control measures have already been put in place. They have necessitated a multitude of maritime changes, including new fuels such as ultra low-sulfur diesel (ULSD) and the re-use of liquefied natural gas (LNG) as a fuel rather than a cargo.
Further changes include new vessel design, cold-ironing of vessels in port (using shore power instead of the ship’s power plant), slow-steaming and vessel speed limits, improved port operations, and a marine highway in the United States. Climate change and global warming have had a significant impact on the maritime industry and its future.
Better Fuels, Lower Emissons, Tougher Laws
The majority of oceangoing vessels today have diesel propulsion systems. Because of this, a tremendous amount of focus has been directed at improving the fuels in use. As its name makes clear, ULSD is a type of diesel fuel with considerably lower sulfur content but at a higher cost. Beginning in the mid-2000s it became the primary type of diesel fuel available from refineries in North America and Europe. This push to lower sulfur content has been driven by a plethora of new regulations and standards, themselves spurred by new environmental laws. Implications for the maritime community are wide-ranging.
In 2009 the Environmental Protection Agency imposed a set of new regulations under the Clean Air Act. There are now more rigorous engine and fuel standards for large U.S.-flagged vessels and their main propulsion source, which is typically a Category 3 marine diesel engine. This is a major step in the EPA’s plan to drastically reduce marine diesel emissions. One outcome will be harmonization with International Maritime Organization standards, which eventually will improve air quality. The IMO, a United Nations agency, is responsible for safety, security, and mitigating maritime pollution.
Of particular significance are the newly proposed emission-control areas (ECAs). In early 2010, the IMO officially designated the waters off North American coasts as ECAs, areas in which stringent international emission standards will apply to vessels navigating them. New standards for marine diesels on larger vessels will go into effect in 2011, and by 2016 nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions will need to be reduced by 80 percent. This reduction will help to decrease the acid rain, oxygen depletion, haze air pollution, and ozone smog that NOx can create. The new IMO Annex VI provisions will lower the global cap on sulfur content in marine fuel by gradually decreasing it to 0.5 percent by 2020, while also drastically reducing sulfur oxide emissions.
MARPOL (Maritime Pollution, formerly the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships) was created in the early 1970s as an outgrowth of the IMO, to look after and protect the maritime environment from vessel pollution. The United States implemented the MARPOL Annex VI, Prevention of Air Pollution from Ships, by passing the Maritime Pollution Prevention Act of 2008, which amended the previous Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships. It applies to ships flying the flag of a party to the convention and voluntary Annex VI in U.S. waters.
When the new IMO Annex VI standards are implemented, air pollution from vessels in the ECAs will be exponentially reduced. This will benefit ecosystems on both coasts of the United States, the 53rd nation to ratify Annex VI. Together, the United States and Canada designated a sulfur emission-control area (SECA) that could well be the largest in the world, covering 200 nautical miles off both the Atlantic and Pacific coasts. This SECA will become effective as of August 2011.
Additional measures will begin in 2012 and extend through 2015; during this transition period, fuel used by all vessels navigating in these designated waters cannot exceed 1 percent sulfur (10,000 ppm). During the final year of this period, 2015, diesel fuel will not be allowed to exceed 0.1 percent sulfur (1,000 ppm).
Starting in 2016, NOx after-treatment requirements will become applicable. Vessels will have to use either selective catalytic reduction systems or exhaust gas scrubbers, a group of air-pollution-control devices that remove some particulates and/or gases from industrial exhaust streams. Manufacturers have put a great deal of effort into reducing emissions in recent years. As regulations become more stringent, manufacturers have responded by making the engine design more robust, with everything from electronic injectors to redesigned combustion chambers. All these applications lead to less NOx pollutants and a cleaner environment. However, a complicating factor is that not all of the solutions complement one other. In reducing NOx, it may be necessary to increase fuel consumption, and that will have a side effect of increasing CO2 emissions.
Exceptions, Complications, and New Guidelines
As with nearly everything in the maritime world, the ability to analyze, process, and balance the alternatives is critical. In the Great Lakes region, an exception was granted due to economic hardship for older vessels. Those with steam boilers would have needed expensive conversions to be able to consume low-sulfur diesel fuel; they are now exempt.
In March 2010, the IMO’s Marine Environment Protection Committee met in London to discuss and reach a consensus on issues relating to greenhouse-gas emission control, MARPOL, and the revised manual on oil pollution. It was agreed to make the energy-efficiency design index (EEDI) and Ship Energy Efficiency Management Plan (SEEMP) mandatory under MARPOL Annex VI.
This means that when ship owners order new vessels, they must make sure that EEDIs are included in contracts with the shipyard. In conjunction with this, the SEEMP should be initiated, and sufficient data should be made available to complete the plan.
Beginning in August 2012, vessel owners will have to comply with MARPOL Annex VI Regulation 14.7 for all ECA-SOx (sulfur oxide) aspects. Ships will now be required to change fuels to operate on the SOx limits upon entry into the outer extremities of the ECA. Those that have never traded in the North Sea or Baltic areas but do service North America will also be required to change their fuels also. The process will include training vessels’ crews, as well as changing fuel storage and handling so that low-sulfur fuels can be accommodated. ECA-NOx compliance will be mandatory as of January 2016 for ships built after this date.
The EPA administrator is responsible for issuing Engine International Air Pollution Prevention certificates to all vessels that meet NOx limits. Vessel compliance and enforcement fall under the jurisdiction of the Coast Guard, which is now part of the Department of Homeland Security. This means that if vessels are in violation of the act, either the Coast Guard or EPA can take enforcement actions.
New Designs for New Times
One of the most important outcomes of the new rules and regulations may be a rebirth of vessel design. This could be a capstone project to invent a new class of ships that are environmentally friendly and economical. With this effort will be the thrust to incorporate the latest technologies, permitting these vessels to engage in all forms of trade and service.
Several areas that be needed to be addressed in design and retrofits are the elements that will be affected by SOx, NOx, and CO2 emission reductions (see the table opposite).
Changes in engineering technology for SOx reduction will cover not only the use of low sulfur fuel, but also the need to use exhaust gas scrubbers due to employing the lower-cost/higher-pollutant fuel oils in the ECAs.
As for NOx reductions, vessel owners will need to address water in fuel, turbocharger adjustments, exhaust gas recirculation, and enlarging waste and heat recovery units. For CO2 reductions, similar technologies can be used as those used with NOx. Additionally, structural changes will need to be made to rudders and propellers, hull design, and hull coatings. Alternative fuel sources could include LNG.
Alternatives to Oil
Biofuel, hydrogen, synthetics, and natural gas can all be used in lieu of oil. Of these alternatives, much focus has been directed at LNG, which LNG-carrying vessels have used widely for the past 35 years, but few others. LNG as a marine fuel is constituted mostly of methane, and it is a very safe fuel that is non-toxic, with very low particulate emissions. Of primary importance, it produces 30 percent less CO2 and 85 percent less NOx than does oil, and no SOx emissions. A ship can run on LNG when in port and be extremely environmentally friendly, as well as avoiding the need to cold-iron the vessel while performing cargo operations in port. Until now, LNG has not been used as a marine fuel on non-LNG-carrying vessels because of cost, but it is now becoming economically viable.
An offshoot of either LNG or diesel as marine fuel is the combined dual fuel (DF) engine, which has the flexibility of either the LNG or diesel mode, depending on circumstances and availability of fuel types. It is high efficiency, with low gas pressure and low emissions due to clean fuels and lean combustion.
Another possibility that has resurfaced is the potential to harness nuclear power, as did the world’s first nuclear-powered merchant ship Savannah from 1962 to 1970, and as nuclear-powered submarines have been doing since the Nautilus (SSN-571) was launched in 1954.
Nuclear power is again being considered from an environmental perspective, including greenhouse-gas regulations, and because of its wide use in the worldwide defense sector. Of course, the upfront costs in building this type of vessel would mean a paradigm shift in maritime culture, but the economic and environmental benefits could be substantial. New small pressurized water reactors are now available; as applied to naval submarines and surface vessels, they have demonstrated an enviable reliability and safety record.
Potential benefits of nuclear-powered vessels include reduction in life-cycle costs (fuel costs are considered separately from those of operating), higher speeds with increased efficiency and no residual or increased pollution impact, and an environmentally friendly operational mode. Challenges include reactor disposal, insurance costs, and additional crew training and security requirements. What really is missing from nuclear-fuel possibilities is how to turn conceptual aspects into commercial realities.
New Terminology for a New World
The Department of Transportation now frequently uses the terms Marine Highway and Short Sea Shipping, which many have heard in recent years and are related to so many aspects of the new regulations. In the past decade many factors have changed, including increased traffic volume, a larger population, reduced roadwork maintenance, limited improvements, and no new roadways.
This has led to a renaissance of U.S. waterways. How can the Marine Highway be incorporated into green shipping and impending regulations to the advantage of the United States? The question is similar to those asked when the U.S. highway interstate infrastructure was created after World War II. The Marine Highway, still in its infancy, has potential benefits and implications for the U.S. economy, environment, and maritime community. It could resolve surface-transportation problems such as congestion, pollution and greenhouse-gas emissions, delays, and gridlock.
America’s Marine Highway Corridors (shown on the following page) have been established and are similar to a maritime road map. Currently we have all-water routes consisting of 11 corridors, 4 connectors, and 3 crossings that will serve as another arm of the U.S. transportation system. Corridors such as M-95 identify water routes that could offer relief to land interstate highways such as I-95, in terms of traffic congestion, excessive air emissions, and other environmental problems. Connectors are shorter routes that serve as feeders, and crossings generally are short transits of harbors or waterways that offer alternatives to much longer or less-convenient land routes.
An important aspect of the Marine Highway will be the potential need for new shuttle/feeder types of vessels that can ply all three types of maritime routes. Short Sea Shipping, or coastal maritime transport, now has the potential through this program to transport containers, either loaded directly on cargo ships or preloaded on truck chassis. This may well be another avenue for the tug and barge industry to continue to streamline and improve its operations, services, and articulated tug barges (tug/barge combinations in which the tug is secured in a notch in the stern of the barge, a system allowing some freedom of motion between the tug and barge).
For the Marine Highway Program to really take off, the U.S. government will have to support it: embrace and nurture it, give it the time to develop with a stable, long-term plan. It appears that a first step has been made: in September 2010, Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood announced a $7 million award to the Mississippi Department of Transportation, the Virginia Port Authority, and the Tennessee Waterway Development Authority to support the waterway movement of marine cargoes between U.S. ports.
Slow Steaming and Speed Limits
Tied to the new rules and regulations are the concepts of establishing speed limits and the related slow steaming. Many owners establish their own speed limits for reasons including cost savings, vessel safety, operation efficiencies and requirements, and weather. But the new greenhouse-gas regulations may indicate that mandatory limits are not far away.
In January 2010, Greece submitted comments to EEDI’s “Baseline Formula” discussion on Prevention of Air Pollution from Ships, including the possibility of imposing speed limits. In the future, speed buoys may be posted in the Strait of Gibraltar to check the exuberance of liner traffic intent on accelerating passage to Mediterranean ports of call. Slow steaming and increased efficiencies of vessel-passage planning with weather-routing and performance-monitoring systems can offset each other while making the necessary reductions in SOx, NOx, CO2, and greenhouse-gas emissions. Speed will reduce from 22 to 16 knots; a ship will reduce bunker-fuel consumption by 60 percent and reduce emissions drastically.
A side-effect of limiting speed, steaming slow, and planning passages is the intensified issues of global greenhouse warming and its impact on worldwide weather conditions. One example is the accelerated coastal upwelling that can be caused by alongshore wind stress on the ocean surface. This can lead to foggy coastal areas such as San Francisco being even more pronounced, and maritime operations being curtailed because of weather. Vessel owners and planners will have to account for this unless we can reduce global warming.
Vessel regulations and requirements, design, fuels, movement, and speed are all of great importance; equally significant are port operations. In the past, ships maintained power plants in port, but in recent years this practice has been put under scrutiny. Many vessels now use shore power in port. This has several benefits, including drastic reductions in emissions and fewer crew members required on post, both of which are potential cost and environmental savings.
All ports and terminals must similarly reinvent themselves and participate in the reduction of greenhouse gases. Ports are ship servicers as well as supporters of the development of land and seaway access and intermodal operations in and out of port. Organizational responsibility for sustainability and eco-friendly environmental management are necessary for ports worldwide.
Some initiatives already under way are in Los Angeles, Long Beach, and New York, where clean trucks have been deployed in the ports and new cranes, hoists, and lifts are being purchased that meet or exceed current EPA standards. Many companies also use hybrid, hydrogen, biodiesel, electric, and LPG cars for drayage as alternatives to the gas-fired internal-combustion engine.
Only through increased diligence, regulation, and incentives will people hop on board the green initiative. Ports such as Turku, Finland, have even levied surcharges for waste and fuel use. Long Beach provides incentives to vessels that reduce pollution. Both of these initiatives have affected the bottom line and pushed or forced the ports to use sustainability and environmental management systems that make operations, costs, and emissions leaner. Related to this is the new push for green logistics: fundamentally changing the supply chain and using environmentally friendly, sound products that are either biodegradable or made from recyclable materials or both, and that leave limited waste and a low carbon footprint.
To take the quantum leap in maritime sustainability, we must change ways of thinking. This has become a fight for survival, and change is a necessary part of it. People, corporations, and entities that refuse to change invariably do not survive. For the maritime greening to continue and be successful, it must embrace the new world—with its increased environmental regulations, rules, and requirements. It must find new ways to develop new designs that make use of alternate fuels, while using the latest advancements in engineering, navigation, vessel planning, meteorology, and port operations.
A common thread in this evolution will be similarities between maritime nations and their ability to communicate and collaborate within this environment, so that all nations are on board regarding which new rules and regulations are required in all navigable waters. Of utmost importance to fostering this continuing development will be the education and training of all mariners. They need to understand the new environmental conditions and adjust accordingly for the benefit of all. Sustainability—the ability to endure—is in the maritime environment a mandate to control and reduce all forms of pollution in a cost-effective manner. Hopefully we will be well-aligned to take this quantum leap.