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S’pore firm in emissions breakthrough seen as too good to be true, by David Hughes

I have been a shipping journalist for over 20 years now but I am sure I have never come across a story like the one about Singapore-based Ecospec Global Technology’s CSNOx gas abatement system.

Now it is not that the story is about a hugely significant technological breakthrough, although it is. No, the really remarkable thing is the muted response that is so far elicited from the global shipping industry.

For those who have not been following this story over the past year or so, Ecospec claims that its system can massively reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, as well as reduce those of sulphur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen oxide (NOx) to below IMO limits.

At present there are International Maritime Organization (IMO) regulations restricting SO2 and NOx emissions. One way of complying is to use abatement systems, colloquially known as ‘scrubbers’, and some have been developed and are in the early stages of commercial use.

There is currently no requirement for reducing or eliminating CO emissions from ships. It had been expected that the United Nations’ Copenhagen Conference last December would have provided IMO with the authority to develop international regulations to achieve this in the marine sector.

Of course Copenhagen was a failure and nothing will now proceed at the UN level until this December’s Mexico Conference. Nevertheless, unless the review of the basic science behind the case that greenhouse gases (GHG) are leading to dangerous global warming comes up with a surprise, the political pressure is such that shipping will have to act to cut its CO2 production. In the absence of a global GHG regime, the EU is certain to act unilaterally.

Until Ecospec came up with its system, it had been assumed that the technology simply wasn’t available to scrub CO2 from emissions.

Now classification society American Bureau of Shipping (ABS) has verified the results of sulphur dioxide (SO2), CO2, nitrogen oxide (NOx) removal from the emissions of a trading 100,000-tonne aframax tanker installed with the CSNOx gas abatement system. ABS has been verifying test results afloat and ashore over past two years.

In the first load point verifications, part of the ongoing IMO Type Approval certification process, conducted during the last week of January, at 50 per cent gas load (equivalent to approximately 5 MW engine output), ABS confirmed the system removed 77 per cent of CO2, 99 per cent of SO2, and 66 per cent of NOx.

Ecospec says the CSNOx system allows vessels to continue using normal heavy fuel and still meet the 0.1 per cent sulphur content as required by an EU ruling which took effect on Jan 1, 2010.

The company says the removal efficiency for NOx is the absolute reduction percentage. After translating this removal efficiency into the NOx emission requirement according to IMO’s Tier 1, 2 or 3 (the strictest) requirements, the CSNOx system is able to remove NOx to such levels that vessels installed with it are able to meet even the strictest Tier 3 requirement.

So as well as meeting current IMO requirements, the system holds out the promise of more or less solving the greenhouse gas issue for the shipping industry.

Ecospec founder and managing director Chew Hwee Hong said: ‘The shipping community is thrilled with the results. CSNOx is extremely efficient in removing CO2, SO2 and NOx. Of significance is also the wash water quality, which met all IMO requirements with most parameters surpassing the strict criteria by a large margin. ABS verifications also underscore the fact that CSNOx is the world’s first proven commercially viable solution that can effectively reduce the hotly debated GHG and pollutants all in one system.’

Actually the shipping community, in general, isn’t thrilled; not yet at least. And that is the strange thing about this story. There is such huge scepticism about the Singapore scrubber that most of the industry still doesn’t believe Ecospec has cracked the CO2 issue. The attitude seems to be that if it looks too good to be true, it probably is too good to be true. At the moment the general attitude remains indifference, even among some Singapore-based owners.

Mr Chew said: ‘The verified results by ABS are critically relevant to ship owners and operators as it means that vessels installed with the CSNOx system will have no difficulty in meeting the IMO’s regulations, EU’s directives, and EPA’s emissions requirements from ships even when using fuel with high sulphur content.’

Actually he is not quite there yet. Ecospec needs to get IMO approval, certified by ABS, for its system before it can be used by owners to comply with IMO and EU rules. That said, the latest verification from ABS must be a major step on that road.

It is looking increasingly likely that a Singapore company is responsible for probably the most significant technical breakthrough in combating the greenhouse gas build-up so far.

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