Merchant Ships Ready to Set Sail with Cleaner Fuel Standards

Even though almost three-quarters of the planet is covered in water, there are a LOT of ships out there on that water.

That’s more than 53,000 merchant ships, not to mention thousands of warships and countless small boats.  But sail boats aside, just about all of those ships have engines, and most of those engines run on diesel fuel.

By one estimate, even though ship fuel accounts for about 7 percent of the total used for transportation (land, air and sea) – it also accounts for about 90 percent of the sulfur dioxide emissions from transportation.  And that – makes new rules about cleaner fuels for ships, big news for all of us.

Starting next year, big ships have to use fuel with a lower (much lower, from 3.5 to .5 percent) sulfur content – or a ship has to be equipped with scrubbers, to clean its exhaust before it hits the outside air.  The project is IMO 2020 – and this move to cleaner fuel is an agreement signed on to by more than 170 countries (“IMO” stands for International Maritime Organization).

Altogether, this affects ships that currently use about 3 million barrels of fuel every day – so that’s a lot of new and improved fuel to bring on line.

Fortunately, along with shipping companies, U.S. refineries have been preparing for IMO 2020 as well – and they are ready to meet the demand for cleaner fuel at sea (as they’ve worked to produce cleaner fuels for transportation on land and in the air as well.  In fact, the new fuel ships will be using will be more like the cleaner diesel that already runs today’s trucks).

As the Coalition for American Energy Security put it, “The U.S. refining sector is prepared to meet demand for low-sulfur fuel.  The investments made by U.S. energy producers will ensure that timely implementation of the IMO standards will provide greater energy security…These standards give the U.S. a significant advantage over foreign oil producers whose nations haven’t made necessary infrastructure investments.”

And, that ocean air will smell a little saltier, come 2020.