Debate on ship propulsion is still wide open, but scrubbing or distillates may be more practical
There are many competing approaches and agendas as the world struggles to plan for the future, balancing a requirement for increased amounts of energy with the need to reduce environmental impact.
The dramatic introduction of shale gas as a source of affordable, ‘clean’ energy might be viewed as bolstering those pushing gas as a fuel of the future — and not just in shipping.
But there is a growing realisation that while liquefied natural gas mitigates SOx, NOx and particulate emissions — and so may be an excellent fuel for ships, like ferries, trading only in emission control areas — its contribution to reducing greenhouse gas emissions is unproven.
Across the supply chain, from well to flue emissions, there may in fact be legitimate concerns that LNG does not reduce CO₂ emissions on a like-for-like basis with other fossil fuels. And, as Clarkson’s Martin Stopford has recently highlighted, those forecasting future energy prices have often been very wrong, so predictions of cheap gas presumably have to be treated with caution.
There’s a lot more work to be done here as well as on the more well-understood missing piece of the LNG-as-fuel jigsaw — the logistical, commercial and serious safety challenges in building a worldwide LNG bunkering network.
Scrubbing or distillates are increasingly looking like the mainstream, pragmatic routes to compliance for most operators of tankers and bulkers. For now the emphasis is on compliance with existing regulation. With the huge bulge in the orderbook still being delivered into the market and little apparent likelihood of LNG applications for either retro-fit or the vast majority of newbuildings, heavy fuel oil remains the fuel of today and of shipping’s medium-term future.
Logically, therefore, we are going to see either the widespread adoption and fitting of exhaust gas scrubbing technology or the use of distillates to comply with Marpol requirements. Lloyd’s Register is not going to predict what that balance will be, but we are ready to support the industry in helping ensure safe installation and safe operations predicated on our extensive technical competence.
In the context of reducing greenhouse gas emissions we feel that the longer-term future for ship propulsion is still wide open. A recurring theme in our analysis of the challenges and changes that the shipping industry and world trade will have to manage is that of complexity……