Clean Arctic Alliance: How Did Super Pollutant ‘Frankenstein’ Fuels Come to Market?

The Clean Arctic Alliance, a coalition of non-governmental organisations working for a ban on heavy fuel oil from Arctic shipping, is calling for action on discovering how did new blended low sulphur shipping fuels that have high black carbon emissions end up on the market.

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The discovery was revealed in a submission made by Germany and Finland to the February’s Sub-Committee on Pollution Prevention and Response (PPR7) at the International Maritime Organization which detailed the results of a measurement campaign which analysed the impact of different fuel oil qualities on Black Carbon emissions.

Black carbon has been described as a short-lived climate forcer, second only to CO2 in terms of international shipping’s contribution to global climate. It represents 7% to 21% of shipping’s overall GHG equivalent impact on the climate, according to the alliance.

To remind, the paper said that “new blends of marine fuels with 0.50% sulphur content can contain a large percentage of aromatic compounds which have a direct impact on Black Carbon emissions”, and “demonstrated that the combustion of fuels with higher aromatic content emits higher concentrations of Black Carbon”.

VLSFOs have been introduced in response to the 2020 “sulphur cap”, which entered into force on January 1, 2020, cutting the sulphur limit in fuel oil used on board ships operating outside designated emission control areas from 3.5 % to 0.5%.

The ultimate goal was to reduce the shipping industry’s impact on the environment and human health across the globe. However, this has been put to question with the new fuel blends’ environmental impact.

As such, the Clean Arctic Alliance is calling for the IMO to support an immediate switch to distillate fuels for ships in the Arctic and develop a global rule prohibiting fuels with high Black Carbon emissions.

“If immediate action isn’t taken by the International Maritime Organization, the shipping industry’s use of very low sulphur fuel oil (VLSFO) – introduced to comply with the 2020 sulphur cap – will lead to a massive increase in Black Carbon emissions, and this will both accelerate the melting of Arctic sea ice and have a major impact on Earth’s climate,” said Dr Sian Prior, Lead Advisor to the Clean Arctic Alliance.

“There are serious questions to be answered about how these blended super pollutant ‘Frankenstein’ fuels ever came to market. It beggars belief that amidst a global climate crisis, the marine fuel industry could develop these VLSFOs without knowing their effect on Black Carbon emissions and the climate, particularly in the Arctic – especially as the IMO has spent almost a decade considering how to reduce Black Carbon emissions from shipping,” said John Maggs, Senior Policy Advisor at Seas at Risk.

The Clean Arctic Alliance has written a letter to representatives of the marine fuel industry who prepared the definitive guidance on the supply and use of 0.5% sulphur marine fuel only months ago.

The NGOs are seeking answers on whether these fuel suppliers were aware that the new low sulphur heavy fuel blends had higher aromatic content and if they were aware of the link between higher aromatic content in fuels and higher BC emissions.

And if so, why didn’t they seek to halt the production of these fuels and alert the IMO.

The letter was sent to IACS, IBIA, IPIECA, IMarEST, IUMI, OCIMF, and the Royal Institute of Naval Architects – all of whom have a consultative status to the IMO. The letter was also sent to ARA, Concawe, CIMAC and JPEC.

“At next month’s PPR 7 meeting in London, the IMO must support an immediate switch to distillate fuels for ships in the Arctic and agree to develop a global rule prohibiting fuels with high Black Carbon emissions; in addition, IMO Members must adopt a resolution calling on shipowners, charterers, and fuel providers and other stakeholders to implement these measures on a voluntary basis while new regulations are developed and enter into force,” concluded Prior.