Cleaning up container ship emissions

Implementation of the three key emission abatement measures on container ships could cut emissions of air pollutants, such as SO2, NOx, PM (including black carbon) and other air toxics, by 97–99 per cent, according to a new report by German environmental group NABU. And the impact on shipping or product prices would be very small.

Switching from high-sulphur heavy fuel oil to low-sulphur (0.005 per cent or 50 ppm) diesel fuel would increase fuel cost by approximately 45 per cent, based on market prices in the second half of 2013. As fuel costs account for around 26 per cent of the freight costs, such a fuel shift would only increase the shipping costs by twelve per cent – a cost that could be offset by means of slow steaming, i.e. reducing speed and saving fuel. 

Even without such offsetting, the higher cost for diesel fuel is calculated to increase the price of a tablet PC by only by 1 eurocent, and the price of a T-shirt or a pair of shoes would go up by respectively 0.2 and 3 eurocents.

For air quality to be significantly improved, NABU argues that shipping companies should not only switch to low-sulphur diesel fuel, but also introduce efficient exhaust gas cleaning technology. Adding a selective catalytic reduction (SCR) system and a diesel particulate filter (DPF) to a large container ship would each cost around €500,000. This adds up to about 1 per cent of the construction cost for a ship with a loading capacity of 10,000 to 12,000 standard containers, which is around €100 million.

Even if the cost for SCR and DPF were passed on in their entirety to the customers, this would not have a significant impact on freight rates and would therefore not significantly affect the shipping companies’ profits.

Air pollution from container ships (May 2014). Published by NABU. 

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