BREAKING: Fossils’ ‘Snake Oil’ Will Accelerate Arctic Warming
While fossils joke about taking “snake oil” mainstream to keep ship engines running, the Clean Arctic Alliance is warning that a new low-sulphur fuel formula meant to meet new international standards will accelerate Arctic warming and ice loss by releasing new stores of black carbon, or soot, into the atmosphere.
“It beggars belief that amidst a global climate crisis, the marine fuel industry could develop these VLSFOs [very low sulphur fuel oils] without knowing their effect on black carbon emissions and the climate, particularly in the Arctic,” said Seas At Risk Senior Policy Advisor John Maggs, in a release issued this morning in London. The release says VLSFOs will generate 10 to 85% more black carbon than heavy fuel oil, and 67 to 145% more than DMA, one of the higher-quality fuels previously used on ships.
Like this story? Subscribe to The Energy Mix and never miss an edition of our free e-digest.
“There are serious questions to be answered about how these blended super pollutant ‘Frankenstein’ fuels ever came to market,” Maggs added, particularly because the International Marine Organization (IMO) “has spent almost a decade considering how to reduce black carbon emissions from shipping.”
Ahead of an IMO meeting coming up in London next month, the alliance has written to the industry organizations behind the new standard, asking whether they understood the link to black carbon emissions and, if so, why they didn’t “immediately seek to halt the production of these fuels and alert the IMO”.
Now, unless the IMO responds immediately, the industry’s use of VLSFOs “will lead to a massive increase in black Ccrbon emissions, and this will both accelerate the melting of Arctic sea ice and have a major impact on Earth’s climate,” said Dr. Sian Prior, the alliance’s lead advisor. At its upcoming meeting in London, Prior said the agency must “support an immediate switch to distillate fuels for ships in the Arctic and agree to develop a global rule prohibiting fuels with high black carbon emissions”. The IMO must also direct ship owners, charterers, and fuel providers to adopt new restrictions voluntarily until formal regulations take effect.
Last week, Bloomberg News reported on the different fuel additives, including VLSFOs, that refiners are using to increase the viscosity and stability of the new fuels. “At least some new low-sulfur fuels contain ingredients that can separate over time, potentially making them liable to clog equipment,” the news agency explained. “That’s prompted shippers to turn to the additives they once passed over as unnecessary, including compounds to improve a fuel’s lubricity and others to keep it stable and prevent it from breaking down.”
“They used to be called snake oil,” said Giorgio de Leonardis, EMEA vice president for fuel specialties at U.S.-based Innospec Inc. “Additives suppliers, in the past, did not have a good reputation,” he noted. But now, “for the first time ever, you had the shipping companies trusting [them].”
“We have almost doubled our sales,” said Olivier Baiwir, CEO of additives supplier Aderco, whose products are based on Canadian technology that keeps Arctic icebreakers functioning and their engines running smoothly. “They’re also used to clean ships’ fuel tanks as owners make sure no non-compliant fuel remains,” Bloomberg says.
“There were very few known options to clean tanks until last year and the most widely used one was manual cleaning,” said Peter Sand, chief shipping analyst at BIMCO, a trade group for vessel operators. With the new IMO regulations coming into force this year, “the use of chemicals and additives has become one of the most-favoured options.”
All of that is with the objective of optimizing vessel performance and avoiding costly mechanical failures, Bloomberg writes. Guy Platten, secretary-general of the International Chamber of Shipping, said the industry has seen “significant efforts to comply with the regulations, including cleaning tanks and fuel systems as well as using additives to ensure that there are no residual non-compliant fuels.” The primary motivation, he added, is “to mitigate against any potential safety risks that could arise to ships’ engines.”
International Council on Clean Transportation figures show 203 tonnes of black carbon emissions from ships using heavy fuel oil (HFO) in Arctic waters in 2017, a 55% jump since 2015. That total would rise to between 223 and 376 tonnes if all the vessels switched to fuel blends, though some of them are expected to continue using HFO and add scrubbers to reduce sulphur emissions. The next concern, ICCT says, is that most of those ships would just dump the scrubber waste overboard, rather than returning it to port for disposal.