‘Frankenstein Fuels’ Triggers War of Words on IMO 2020

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As the shipping and bunker industries’ discussions about how best to address marine fuel emissions become more mainstream, participants in these debates are starting to use more emotive language to target a wider audience, reports Ship&Bunker.

Frankenstein fuels

The discovery that some of the new blended LSFO’s to comply with IMO 2020 air pollution standards will actually lead to a surge in the emissions of a Super Pollutant known as Black Carbon.

Responding to this, the Clean Arctic Alliance is calling for the International Maritime Organization (IMO) to support an immediate switch to distillate fuels for ships in the Arctic and develop a global rule prohibiting fuels with high Black Carbon emissions.

On Monday environmental body the Clean Arctic Alliance issued a press release labelling very low sulfur fuel oil (VLSFO) blends as “Frankenstein fuels” and “super pollutant shipping fuels.”

Ban on VLSFO use in the Arctic

The organisation is lobbying for a ban on the use of VLSFO in the Arctic, and a global ban on the use of aromatic VLSFO blends with high black carbon emissions, as well as questioning the motives of anyone who knew about the emissions impact of these blends but chose not to voice concerns.

The use of emotive language in Monday’s press release and its prosecutorial attitude towards industry bodies reads less like an attempt to raise these technical questions or influence International Maritime Organization delegates than a bid for the attention of the general public.” said Jack Jordan, Managing Editor, Ship & Bunker.

But the use of emotive language in Monday’s press release and its prosecutorial attitude towards industry bodies reads less like an attempt to raise these technical questions or influence International Maritime Organization delegates than a bid for the attention of the general public.

The problem is already a familiar one for the scrubber industry.

Questions posed by the Alliance

The Clean Arctic Alliance has written a letter containing the following questions to representatives of the marine fuel industry who prepared the definitive guidance on the supply and use of 0.5% sulphur marine fuel only months ago, to ask :

• Were you aware that these new low sulphur heavy fuel blends had higher aromatic content?
• Were you aware of the link between higher aromatic content in fuels and higher BC emissions?
• If the answer to the above questions is “yes”, then why did you not immediately seek to halt the production of these fuels and alert the IMO?

The letter was sent to IACS, IBIA, IPIECA, IMarEST, IUMI, OCIMF, and the Royal Institute of Naval Architects – all of whom have consultative status to the IMO. The letter was also sent to ARA, Concawe, CIMAC and JPEC.

All of the organisations are named as co-authors of of the Joint Industry Guidance on “The supply and use of 0.50%-sulphur marine fuel” published in August 2019.

Environmental impact of scrubbers

The fight over the environmental impact of open-loop scrubber models has been going on for more than two years now, and both sides of the argument claim to have scientific evidence to support their case.

But the main battlefield is not in the academic discussion between microbiologists, but in whether the general public can be persuaded to take an instinctive dislike to scrubbers. So far, things appear to be going the way of the emissions-cleaning systems’ opponents.

The argument that open-loop scrubbers simply take pollution from the air and deposit it in the sea — which those on the other side would call an oversimplification — has become commonplace at industry events, and is frequently cited by port authorities banning the use of the systems.

Others have gone further in aiming opprobrium at the scrubber industry.

In September British newspaper The Independent ran a story labelling open-loop scrubber models as “cheat devices.”

An amendment proposed to the Australian Senate in December using similar language was only narrowly defeated.

Calling shipowners with scrubbers cheats is not remotely fair, given that the use of scrubbers is enshrined in IMO regulations and widely seen as legitimate — but it could be effective.

Scrubber ban

Open-loop scrubber bans are spreading — although owners with scrubber-equipped tonnage appear comfortable and dismiss the idea of any financial impact — and a move to ban them more widely at the level of international bodies like the European Union would be a significant blow.

The officials contemplating these bans will partly be interested by the scientific evidence on each side, but a strong instinctive reaction from the general public would be more likely to sway their minds.

While the black carbon debate is unlikely to gain much public attention for now, and the open-loop scrubber skirmishes are likely to fade away as high sulfur fuel oil supplies diminish, the fight over alternative bunker fuels in the 2020s is almost guaranteed to get dirty.

Some will be seeking to water down the IMO’s initial strategy on greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the run-up to 2023, and others to toughen it.

LNG industry overshadows

The energy majors running the LNG industry will put significant marketing funds behind cementing its current position as frontrunner among the alternative bunker fuels.

LNG’s detractors, meanwhile, will want to frame LNG bunkering as a distraction and just another fossil fuel that can’t solve shipping’s GHG problem.

And the proponents of every other solution — hydrogen, ammonia, methanol, batteries, solar, wind and others — will be clamouring to make their voices heard in a crowded market.

Each of these factions will want to do as much damage as possible to the reputations of the others, and a communications strategy based on technical detail alone is unlikely to prove effective.

As climate change rises up the political agenda, and the likes of Greta Thunberg and Extinction Rebellion get more coverage in the media, those who can put their message across outside the specialist press in the simplest possible terms will see the biggest results.

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Source: Ship&Bunker

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