Maritime shipping has to clean up its fuel by 2020

Sept 2019—You might think IMO means In My Opinion. But soon it will be a household name as the International Marine Organization.

Ships burn the worst of the worst oil, sulfur-rich, polluting and cheap. But the IMO has passed regulations driving the entire industry toward low sulfur fuel by January 1, 2020. That is just months away and will have sweeping effects on the transportation industry, refiners, and even geopolitical power; Saudi Arabia has high sulfur oil.

Amid a broader push towards cleaner energy markets, the IMO is set to ban shipping vessels using fuel with a sulfur content higher than 0.5%, compared to levels of 3.5% at present. The most commonly used marine fuel is thought to have a sulfur content of around 2.7%.

That’s a big improvement. Landlubbers should see the difference in air quality at major ports. According to the National Institutes of Health,

Long-term exposure to sulfur dioxide can cause:

  • Changes in lung function

  • Decreased fertility in women and men

  • Loss of smell

  • Headache and dizziness

  • Nausea and vomiting

  • Bronchitis and shortness of breath

Shippers have a number of options and hopefully should be gearing up for this change.

Ship owners can significantly reduce their sulfur emissions by using low-sulfur fuel, traveling more slowly, installing exhaust gas cleaning systems or opting for other — more expensive — clean fuels such as liquefied natural gas.

Some ships will chose to limit the air pollutants by installing exhaust gas cleaning systems, known as “scrubbers.” These are designed to remover sulfur oxides from the ship’s engine and boiler exhaust gases.