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Stupidity And The HFO Blame Game

If I asked for a show of hands – Anyone who was around in 1895? I can be pretty much assured that I am not going to see any hands in the air. Not really a surprise as the intervening 125 years is bound to thin down the likely respondents. But it was in that year that Rudolf Diesel patented his compression ignition engine and his namesake engine began its winning streak in the maritime world.

As the inevitable bugs were worked through and the engines became every bit the equivalent to their steam contemporaries the benefits of easy liquid bunkering became a real hit not to mention the lack of ash and constant boiler tending. The diesel was truly a miracle of engineering, dependable, powerful, and clean. Yes clean, it had all the hallmarks of what everyone always looks for in the latest technology. It was smaller, lighter, faster and easier to work with. What more could you ask for?

In a way it became the heartbeat of the ship, the low drone that engendered protection and safety, if she was running, no matter the weather or the challenges with navigation, all was right with the world.

It is difficult to come from the position of affectionate admiration only to be confronted with the almost irreverent and insulting headlines that daily accuse “her below decks” of being dirty and worse, a threat to the very seas and industry she so diligently served for more years than any man has walked a deck.

Shipping is 3-parts industry, 1-part auction room, 1-part family with all parts wrapped in a canvas bag of tradition. Often business will run through the entire bag and leave nothing but a mess to be patched together and slowly rebuilt from the pieces but almost inevitably the parts reconfigure with different funnel colors and offices, but morph and change into new versions of their former selves, they most certainly do.

These days it is beyond doubt that the diet of the diesel has become somewhat objectionable. We dealt with the NOX, and soon SOX will be just another in a long line of Tiers and hurdles to jump over on the way to the next piece of paper, report or compliance. But the next trial for the diesel will most likely be her last outing.

Carbon reductions of 50% in existing vessels will not be attainable. Most bulkers and tankers have been slimed down in engine capacity over the past 20 years and a reduction in power from the current levels will be boarder line at best, dangerous at worst.

If a reduction in power is not feasible, and an unattainable reduction in fuel use must be met, there is no other option than to use new zero emissions systems to turn the prop.

Unusually in such a tradition heavy profession, I find very few mariners that are welded to their diesel roots, in fact quite a few look forward to new technology- let me rephrase that, Many look forward to the type of technology that makes a clean ship drive quietly through the seas even if they don’t long for the endless strings of electronic dots and dashes that seem to accompany every piece of new equipment on ships at present.

The idea that some how the shipping industry knowingly chose a highly polluting method of driving their vessels is as absurd as the idea of people who were not yet born needing intervene as Mr. Diesel first ran his engine and laid out his patent 125 years ago.

The shipping Industry, Ship owners, masters, engineers and designers have not been responsible for the effects of the pollution from ships engines, just as Rudolf Diesel is not responsible for his invention.

No technology, no hydrogen fuel cell, flettner rotor nor solar panel was built to fight the carbon war. The intent of all these technologies was simply to reduce the amount of expensive fuel consumed by the main engine which is a noble pursuit in its self but not why they are now in the spotlight as the answers to carbon emissions.

It is very unlikely, given, the increasing rate of climate change we are seeing at this stage, that the IMO 2050 objective to reduce the carbon output from the shipping industry will be held at only 50%. A more aggressive and pragmatic approach will most likely be driven by the consuming public as they become more informed and more demanding of the companies whose products they consume, to be carbon clean. This will have a far greater driving force on shipping than can be imagined by those only concerned with the suggestions coming from the IMO.

In fairness to the often-glacial IMO, they have expressed the desire to reduce carbon output by “at least 50%” but this still falls very long way short of the once voiced 100% total decarbonization we all thought was on the way.
An almost inevitable “them and us” situation is bound to arise from this point forward. Climate advocates will press shippers to move ever more quickly towards and exceed the 50% reduction goals and the shippers will try to eek out a living while incorporating expensive equipment to reduce the consumption of fossil fuels.

I overheard a conversation between two “old salt” chief engineers talking about what their job in relation to emissions control and how it has become how they were being forced to change their plant so often to comply.

“yeah, and you know the next Tier of engines will run on water and exhaust perfumed fresh air and sunshine”

I often thought of that comment and how fantastically accurate and prophetic it might well be.

It does seem, now that the facts and trend are understood and that stony legislation is in place, the Shipping industry has the choice to either engage fully and progress to reduce carbon output rapidly or be labeled as the deliberate polluters. A position that could be defended against up until this very point in time.

This is not the time for Blame Games or to score petty points, but rather the moment at which all views should coalesce and focus on getting the job done for all our sakes. The window of opportunity to have blame wrung out of this is short and blame will trail closely behind each deadline or target set by every shipping company by increasingly optically proficient and astute public.

As for me I will miss the throb of the big MAN diesel, but I am for more interested in the laughter of my young daughter and the world I will leave to her.

Eric Holohan, Naval architect and CTO of Green Framework LLC, a company dedicated to development and rollout of fuel efficiency technologies for ships. Currently he is heavily involved with the De-Sul system for removal of Sulphur from Heavy Fuel oil. Writing technical and opinion articles has always been an important part of influencing how technology shapes the future and it is highly important to guide the public and industry to sane, safe and viable conclusions today more than in times past.

Source: Article Provided By Mr. Eric Holohan for Hellenic Shipping News Worldwide (www.hellenicshippingnews.com)

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