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Sulphur directive:

improver of air quality, driver of growth

“The technical changes required by the sulphur directive have significantly improved the quality of air"

TEXT Sari Hosio & Arnon | PHOTO Satu Hassi

As shipping traffic is the second largest source of sulphur emissions after the energy industry, limiting the emissions of the shipping industry creates significant improvements in the quality of air. Back when she was a member of the European Parliament, Satu Hassi headed negotiations on the amendment of the sulphur directive, as a result of which sulphur dioxide emissions in the air have decreased significantly and continue to decrease.

“I acted as the reporter for the European Union marine fuel sulphur directive, that is, the leader of the negotiations in the European Parliament when the EU legislation was updated with the new emission standards decided by the International Maritime Organization (IMO),” Satu Hassi says. “Limiting the sulphur content of marine fuels had started much earlier in the IMO. Finland, along with other Baltic Sea nations, was pushing for stricter emission limits for areas such as the Baltic Sea as early as the 1990s.”

"change also promotes new things"

Threat or possibility?

There was vivid discussion on the phases of the sulphur directive in Finland.

“This is a great example of an environmental protection reform the sense of which people first question. People see change only as a risk, claiming that unemployment will increase and export will slow down. However, change also promotes new things: in this case too, technology for cleaning flue gas already existed, but shipping companies had not voluntarily adopted it. The change in legislation opened new markets for the Finnish marine industry.”

As of 2015, the sulphur content of marine fuel in the sulphur emission control areas of the Baltic Sea, the North Sea, the English Channel and both coasts of Canada was limited to 0.1 per cent. On all oceans, the sulphur limit of marine fuel will decrease to 0.5 per cent as of 2020.

With the new limits, shipping operators will have to select one of three alternative solutions: they can purchase ships powered by liquefied natural gas (LNG), use low sulphur fuels instead of bunker fuel or install scrubbers in the ships.

“It is currently estimated that scrubbers have been installed in more than 2,000 ships. In total, there are some 90,000 vessels operating worldwide. Naturally, everyone will not get a scrubber, but if the price difference between low sulphur fuel and bunker fuel remains as it is now, a scrubber will be a profitable investment for many years to come,” Harri Lamminen, CEO of Arnon, estimates.

Arnon has designed and implemented electrification and automation for scrubbers for more than a decade now.

Reduction of emissions at the core of the strategy

“The leading themes in Arnon’s operations are renewable energies, zero emissions and digitalisation,” Lamminen says. “Responsibility for environmental issues is as self-evident a part of a company’s operations as ensuring occupational health and safety.”

Although scrubbers are not able to reach zero emissions, we are heading to that direction.

“When the sulphur directive was being decided on, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimated that approximately 400,000 people in Europe die as a result of air pollution each year, and a Danish study estimated that approximately 50,000 of these deaths are caused by shipping emissions,” Hassi points out.  “The technical changes required by the sulphur directive have significantly improved the quality of air, especially on the coasts, thereby decreased the risk of lung and cardiovascular diseases.”

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