Could Arctic research fast-track an international shipping emissions standard?

With the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) beginning to piece together an early resemblance of an emissions reduction target for the industry, a two year Arctic trial could pave the way for more reliable measurement techniques.

A collaboration of leading Finnish institutions – including the VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland, Tampere University of Technology and the University of Turku – has critically examined the effect that black carbon will have as new shipping routes open up in the Arctic due to melting ice caps.

The two-year research programme, which began in January 2015, has unveiled the findings of its first year of research into the viability of bio-component fuels and the impact of engine loads on emissions; claiming that technological engine enhancements could be a driving factor in measuring emissions.

“The initial results have already revealed critical parameters in the measurement of black carbon; such parameters can be used to achieve more reliable results. Engine loads and fuel types had a major impact on black carbon emissions from the engine we studied,” VTT’s principal scientist Päivi Aakko-Saksa said.

The results of the first year of the “Shipping Emissions in the Arctic” research saw VTT use a 1.6MW diesel engine and four marine fuel cells – carrying various amounts of sulphur and bio-components. VTT added a range of technological advancements in order to reduce black carbon emissions, while also enhancing the monitoring process.

With new tests set to be conducted in ships in the near future – ships will be fitted with a desulphurising exhaust scrubber – VTT believes that upscaling the development of fuel types alongside engine enhancements could stop black carbon melting ice caps while reducing emissions in the sector.

The study into black carbon – which is the by-product of the incomplete burning of fuels, often emitted as soot – could pave the way for the shipping industry to prepare for tighter international carbon regulations. VTT has called on businesses to invest in further research to develop fuel and engine efficiency initiatives.

“A reliable method of measuring black carbon emissions from shipping is sorely needed, now that the IMO (the International Maritime Organisation) is evaluating the need to control such emissions, but no reliable measurement technique has been identified,” VTT’s research team leader Jukka Lehtomäki said.

Titanic task

Despite the IMO stating that it plans to implement an international standard, The SSI – a collection of business and NGOs worth $0.5trn – has warned that the lack of a definitive conclusion at a recent IMO meeting has decreased the likelihood of a binding agreement on future industry emissions reduction targets.

Supported by companies including AkzoNobel, Unilever and WWF, SSI introduced a 2040 roadmap and set of shared commitments to help the shipping industry navigate the “significant challenges” it faces on reducing emissions.

With VTT calling for engine and fuel enhancements, AkzoNobel recently issued more than 126,000 carbon credits – worth more than $500,000 – to 16 ships that used the company’s coatings, in a move that has reduced the emissions of each vessel by 4,000 tonnes annually.

Matt Mace

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