Your Guide to the IMO’s 2020 Sulfur Oxide Regulations

Does your business rely on international shipping? In less than 10 months the International Maritime Organization’s new rules aimed to curb sulfur oxide emissions will go into effect.

Right now, ocean freight is by far the most sustainable shipping option; however, it doesn’t come without its share of environmental effects. Ships typically use heavy fuel oil, derived from crude oil. Crude oil contains sulfur which, following combustion in the engine, ends up in ship emissions.

Sulfur oxides (SOx) are harmful to both the environment and human health. When released into the atmosphere, it creates acid rain which pollutes our oceans as well as our forests and crops. It also causes various respiratory and lung diseases to people exposed to it. The new IMO sulfur regulations will not only protect marine life and the environment, but will also improve health conditions for people living or working near major shipping routes and seaports.

The new regulations aim to reduce sulfur emissions from 3.5% to 0.5% in previously non-designated emission control areas. This means shipowners will have to comply using one or more tactics that will ensure cost-effectiveness while adhering to the new emission limitations. Such options include:

  1. Running on clean liquified natural gas (LNG)
  2. Using new blends of fuel oil that are low on sulfur
  3. Fitting an exhaust gas cleaning system, known as “scrubber”

And now for the big question, will these new regulations increase operating costs for international shipping? The answer is yes…at least at first. Whether it’s the initial investment in the installation of scrubbers to reduce the emissions, or the use of new fuel blends that will probably initially be higher in cost compared to traditional heavy fuel oil used today; complying with the new IMO regulations will see an increase in the overall operating cost. However, the benefits to the environment and population health will definitely make this a worthy and even cost-effective endeavor in the long run.

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