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Illegal slops dumping is an environmental challenge for shipping – but there are solutions

When we think of oil spills in relation to shipping, images of seabirds on dirty beaches and spills from offshore pipelines that infrequently appear in the media typically come to mind. The disastrous environmental impact of these events is immediately obvious to all who see the stories. However, what they may not be aware of is the number of other, perhaps smaller – but still significant – incidents that occur on a regular basis – some accidental, but also some of them deliberate.

Around 90 per cent of the world’s goods are transported by ships. As well as using circa 400 million tonnes of fuel oil to function, the routine operation of vessels also requires the release of ballast water and tank residues, slops and sludges and soiled bilge water, all of which need to be disposed of without impact on the environment. Although less dramatic than the high-profile oil spills, the combined environmental impact of their discharge is considerable, and often sails below the radar. The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) estimates suggest that at least 3000 incidents occur each year in which oily waters are deliberately dumped in European waters – and European waters make up only a small percentage of global transport routes. To further illustrate the extent of the problem, earlier this year, the European Sea Ports Organisation put port waste and ship waste among its top ten environmental concerns, in positions five and six respectively.

Vincent Favier

Vincent Favier, CEO, Ecoslops

Despite stringent legislation around illegal waste dumping, cases are still occurring regularly, as seen by the recent spike in cases featured in the shipping media. However, it would seem that some operators are choosing to dump their slops illegally due to the difficulties of legal discharge. For ship owners and operators, disposing of slops represents just one sustainability challenge they have to act upon under IMO and EU regulations. However, where previously sectors such as the construction and cement industries used to provide a reliable market to purchase slops from the traditional collectors, the low cost of crude is encouraging them now to purchase purer, virgin fuels.

This is creating a negative cycle. Slops are building up in ports, as many ports do not have adequate reception facilities, and the opportunities for waste collectors to dispose of slops sustainably are limited. Slops tanks are becoming physically full, and vessels can’t afford to – nor would they want to – keep the waste product. Furthermore, the slop collectors, having lost their sales to the cement industry and facing higher storage costs, have to increase their collection fees to vessels. Yet port authorities cannot authorise vessels to leave the ports until the slops are disposed of, threatening to cause downtime, which no-one can afford, as well as significant environmental and sustainability issues.

It was in this context that Ecoslops created a technology that sustainably treats slops through a micro-refining process, in order to regenerate them into compliant fuel and light bitumen for the marine and construction markets. While the principle and design of the technology was well established, Ecoslops conducted further research to develop the concept for the Oil Waste Processing Plant (OW2P), which combines an innovative refining petroleum process and sophisticated techniques with an appropriate clean water regeneration scheme into one small treatment unit; a micro-refinery.

Our technology is now in place to solve the physical challenge of sustainably treating slops, but furthermore, Ecoslops’ business model is attractive to all stakeholders within the slops supply and disposal chain. For ports, it takes the hassle of slops’ disposal out of the equation, regenerating them rather than burning them, which has a positive impact in reducing pollution in port communities. It also helps ports to improve their sustainability profile, and enhances their competitiveness and reputation in the eyes of their customers, and wider stakeholders. For ship owners and operators, they get the reassurance that their waste is treated appropriately and at the right cost, and they can also improve their brand and reputation. In tough market conditions, traditional slops collectors also benefit, as Ecoslops can purchase the product at a fair price, and alleviate the pressures on storage capacity. This also results in a decrease in the fees slop collectors charge to the vessels, as they once again have a valuable output for their slops.

In 2012, Ecoslops won a tender in the Port of Sinès in Portugal to construct the company’s first refinery, where we have a 15-year sub-concession agreement for the exclusive rights to collect slops but also solid waste within the Port. Since operations began, the unit has proven its industrial efficiency by recycling and upcycling over 98 per cent of the hydrocarbon residue collected. As a result, we recently announced that the company is on track to meet the annual target of producing at least 30,000 tonnes of regenerated slops in 2017 from this refinery.

Following the success of the Port of Sinès operation, and validation of the technology, there is real enthusiasm within the industry to increase the sustainable treatment of slops; indeed, port authorities are seeing it as a genuine solution to their infrastructure challenges and a point of competitive differentiation. Since the opening of the facility in the Port of Sinès, more than 15 delegations from various European and non-European ports came to visit the site and discuss the technology’s potential applications. In April of this year we were awarded the Future Programme’s Worldwide Innovation Challenge by the French government to continue the development of the technology.

New technologies are being unveiled on a regular basis, designed to transform the environmental impact of the shipping industry, but it is essential that we begin to tackle the challenges that don’t receive the high profile media and public attention, despite their severity; this includes slops disposal. The difficulty surrounding sustainable slops disposal was the core reason for Ecoslops’ formation, and it is gratifying to see the response from the industry, recognising our technology as a credible solution to solving this issue. Only by tackling the problem head on can we prevent more deliberate cases of waste dumping, and ensure that slops are dealt with in a sustainable, and profitable way.
Source: By Vincent Favier, CEO, Ecoslops, Article arranged on behalf of Hellenic Shipping News Worldwide (www.hellenicshippingnews.com)

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