Jacob Granqvist, Gasum, Marine

Jacob Granqvist

Vice President, maritime, Gasum
tel. +358 40 483 91 29

A sulphur content limit for emissions from ships:

The International Maritime Organization (IMO) adopted a sulphur content limit for emissions from ships in 2016: from 2020 onwards, there will be a global sulphur cap of 0.5% instead of the current 3.5% in force for shipping emissions.


New Sulphur Directive sets limits on sulphur content of emissions from ships – how to cut sulphur emissions from maritime transport?

The International Maritime Organization (IMO) adopted a sulphur content limit for emissions from ships in 2016: from 2020 onwards, there will be a global sulphur cap of 0.5% instead of the current 3.5% in force for shipping emissions. Jacob Granqvist, Vice President, Maritime, from the energy company Gasum explain how the new Sulphur Directive will affect international maritime transport and how ships will be able to achieve the new sulphur emission limits.

The role played by maritime transport is enormous as up to 80% of the volume of world trade is carried by sea. Emissions from maritime transport are also high: ships account for around 2.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions. In addition to greenhouse gas emissions, they also generate harmful local emissions, such as sulphur emissions, which have adverse effects on the environment and human health by, for example, causing a lot of lung diseases. Therefore the new Sulphur Directive aims to cut these harmful emissions by setting a 0.5% limit on the sulphur content of marine fuels instead of the current 3.5%. These emission cuts are believed to save the lives of up to millions of people worldwide in the decades ahead.

“By cutting sulphur emissions globally, the aim is in particular to improve air quality and human health in coastal areas. This, however, won’t have an impact on Baltic Sea transport as the maximum limit for sulphur emissions in the Baltic Sea has already been 0.1% since 2015,” says Jacob Granqvist.

According to Granqvist, the biggest concern of maritime transport players is to do with prices increasing. The currently most popular and cheapest marine fuel, heavy fuel oil (HFO), contains 3.5% sulphur. Granqvist believes, however, that the switch to cleaner fuels will take place without any major problems.

“Maritime transport will continue as before. The 2015 changeover in the Baltic Sea was smooth, and I cannot see any reason why things wouldn’t go as well this time, too,” Granqvist says.

LNG, scrubbers and hybrid fuels – multiple ways of cutting sulphur emissions

There are several different options available to cut sulphur emissions. For example, some ships will introduce exhaust gas cleaning systems referred to as scrubbers to prevent sulphur emissions into the atmosphere. The wash water containing the removed sulphur is then discharged, for example, into the sea.

“Although scrubbers can prevent the release of sulphur into the atmosphere, they still don’t fully eliminate the sulphur problem. Using scrubbers may currently be cheaper than using sulphur-free fuels, but it’s not a sustainable solution if the sulphur ends up in the sea. In addition, large quantities of heavy metals and other harmful substances also dumped in the sea with scrubber wash water discharges,” Granqvist points out.

In addition to ship scrubbers, maritime transport is likely to start utilizing a variety of hybrid fuels, which are under continuous development. Hybrid fuels enable sulphur emissions from cargo ships being limited to 0.5%, but other emissions such as greenhouse gas emissions still remain unchanged.

“Liquefied natural gas (LNG) doesn’t generate any sulphur emissions, which is why it can also be used in the Baltic Sea area where the emission limits are stricter. In addition to this, LNG enables a reduction of up to 20% in greenhouse gas emissions compared with conventional fuels,” says Granqvist. “There’s also the added bonus that the price of LNG is highly competitive against other options.”

Gas infrastructure development constitutes positive environmental action

Gasum is purposefully developing the Nordic gas infrastructure to increase the production and distribution of low-emission energy. In addition to sulphur and greenhouse gas emission cuts, gas makes it possible to reduce nitrogen dioxide emissions from maritime transport by up to 85% and fully eliminate fine particulate emissions, resulting in significant improvements in the air quality of coastal areas and port cities.

Additionally, the distribution infrastructure built for LNG use can be utilized in the future in the use of liquefied biogas (LBG), which is a fully renewable and environmentally friendly fuel. Biogas is produced from biodegradable waste such as household biowaste or municipal sewage sludge and its use can help to cut greenhouse gas emissions by up to 85% compared with conventional fuels.

“We’re the leading LNG supplier in the Nordic countries and want to offer our expertise to all maritime transport actors who are considering more environmentally friendly solutions. Our aim is to grow by solving our customers’ problems and that way also expand to continental Northern Europe,” Granqvist summarizes.

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