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Box ship charterers and looming 2020 drive scrubber surge

Thu 05 Oct 2017 by Rebecca Moore

Box ship charterers and looming 2020 drive scrubber surge
The large size of scrubber needed for a box ship makes the installation more complex.Credit: CR Ocean Engineering

Suppliers see the container ship sector as where the next surge of orders will come from. Rebecca Moore speaks to key manufacturers to find out why

Container shipping is the next large vessel segment expected to experience a large take-up of scrubbers (following the cruise sector), Yara Marine Technologies chief sales and marketing officer Kai Latun told Container Shipping & Trade.

He said the drivers for this include IMO’s confirmation last October to implement 2020 as the date for its 0.5% global sulphur cap as well as a desire to be environmentally friendly.

“Some container ship operators are really willing and have the ability to look at quite significant investments in the interest of the environment,” he said. In particular, several of the larger container owners “are not just driven by IMO [requirements] but by a genuine interest in protecting the environment.”

Mr Latun said that competition was tough in the industry and that many shipowners have a challenge in funding a scrubber investment. “However at some point soon the charterers will realise the fuel cost savings scrubber systems generate and start giving preference to vessels with scrubbers. This will be a market driver and can also generate new funding models for shipowners.”

Yara Marine is working on projects for several ultra large container owners but at the time of writing in late September was unable to give names. In November last year it announced that it had scooped a contract for the supply of scrubber systems on four container feeder vessels that will be operated by German ship manager Jüngerhans Maritime Services.

Those four newbuilds, currently under construction at Zhoushan Changhong International Shipyard in Zhoushan China, will have scrubber systems installed in full compliance with IMO’s new SOx regulation that will be implemented from 2020.

With Yara Marine scrubber systems installed, the container feeders can operate on heavy fuel oil with a sulphur content up to 3.5%. They will be delivered from Q4 this year.

Mr Latun said that the smaller container feeder vessel segment was a good fit for scrubbers as in many cases they are “small vessels that are running fast with large engines.” He commented that this made a “good business case”.

CR Ocean Engineering (CROE) is also targeting the container sector. CROE president and chief operating officer Nicholas Confuorto told Container Shipping & Trade “Last year was very quiet in terms of scrubber orders. But once the IMO decision was made, people started to take action.”

He warned that operators need to act now if they want to a scrubber installed in time for January 2020 “If they don’t have a shipyard visit booked before then, they need to act fast.”

He said that the company was seeing a number of proposals to combine a scrubber retrofit into already-planned work to complete all the work in a single drydocking.

He said that it made “all the sense in the world” for container ships to deploy scrubbers due to the economics of their size, but there are some challenges. “The size of the scrubber is very large because the engines are very large, so there is more complexity in terms of installation and how to get them board.”

For the past few years, CROE has dedicated a team to focus on its scrubbing system’s automating and controls. “It is already significantly automated but we are looking at making it even more automated. We want to make it simpler for operators” explained Mr Confuorto.

He singled out one example: the company is considering a request from a vessel operator to connect the scrubbers’ start-up and shut-down directly to the main engines’ operation so that operators do not have to initiate its start/stop routine by pressing additional buttons. Mr Confuorto commented “This is doable, the automation already exists in our system and registers the engine signals, we just have to make the connection active so that the scrubbers start and stop based on these signals.”

This will take away the risk of someone forgetting to turn on the scrubber (leading to illegal exhaust gas emissions) and could lead to wasted energy by continuing to pump water through a scrubber that should have been turned off. “It takes the decision from a person’s hands and means that it will run at optimal performance,” he said.

Scrubbers pose corrosion concerns

Scrubbers “face extremely harsh conditions” when it comes to corrosion, Yara Marine Technologies chief sales and marketing officer Kai Latun told Container Shipping & Trade.

“Some of the earlier scrubbers may not be up to the corrosion challenges and I am afraid that the scrubber industry may see some noise around that,” he commented. Those early installations may have used cheaper materials that were more susceptible to corrosion, he explained.

“The basis for us is not to compromise on materials,” Mr Latun said, pointing out that a scrubber needs to last the lifetime of the ship so Yara’s scrubbers are made from a very tough high nickel alloy that won’t corrode.

Snapshot CV Nick Confuorto (CROE)

Nicholas Confuorto is the president and chief operations officer for CR Ocean Engineering. He is also a founding member and the chairman of the Exhaust Gas Cleaning Systems Association. Since receiving his engineering degree from Columbia University in 1976, Mr Confuorto has focused his career in the field of environmental controls and has held high level positions at some of the most respected corporate names in the global air pollution controls industry.