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IBIA: Still Too Early to Draw Conclusions on VLSFO’s Black Carbon Emissions

International Bunker Industry Association (IBIA) believes that it is still premature to draw any valid and meaningful conclusions on the level of black carbon emissions associated with the use of 0.50% sulphur fuels.

The comment comes in response to results of a study conducted by Finland and Germany that found 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”.

Environmental organizations such as the Clean Arctic Alliance (CAA) were outraged by the findings, seeking immediate action from the International Maritime Organization (IMO).

CAA has also approached representatives of the marine fuel industry who prepared the Joint Industry Guidance (JIG) on the supply and use of 0.5% sulphur marine fuel only months ago, 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.

Responding to the letter, IBIA’s Director Unni Einemo explained that the JIG effort was focused on covering practical and operational aspects of the 0.50% sulphur limit to prepare all relevant industry stakeholders for the transition and help ensure the safety of vessels and crews. Its remit was limited to these issues.

“One of the main concerns addressed in the guidance related to the variability of the fuel blends that were expected to come to the market and the potential compatibility issues that may occur in the event of commingling of fuels of a different nature,” she said.

“IBIA is surprised by the study’s assertion that the 0.50% sulphur fuel oil blends are expected to have higher aromatic content than traditional high sulphur fuel oil (HSFO), especially as the expectation prior to 2020 was that many of the new marine fuel blends would be more paraffinic in nature.”

Einemo added that the transition to 0.50% sulphur fuels is still in its early days and that there is no comprehensive overview available at this stage that documents the actual variability and quality of such fuels on the market.

“Early indications from several fuel testing agencies do, however, indicate that 0.50% sulphur fuels seen so far tend to be more paraffinic and less aromatic than the HSFOs they have replaced. As such, it seems premature to draw any valid and meaningful conclusions on the level of black carbon emissions associated with the use of 0.50% sulphur fuels.”

IBIA’s director further noted that it supports a thorough, scientific debate of this issue at the IMO, which is set to discuss the reduction of the impact of black carbon emissions on the Arctic at the upcoming 7th session of the IMO’s Sub-Committee on Pollution Prevention and Response.

“The IMO has already agreed to start work to develop a ban on the use and carriage of heavy fuel oil (HFO) for combustion purposes by ships in Arctic waters, but first it needs to define what is meant by ‘HFO’. At present, there is a ban on the use and carriage of heavy grade oil (HGO) in the Antarctic under MARPOL Annex I. The IMO needs to examine whether the existing definition of HGO may be fit for developing a ban on the use and carriage of HFO in the Arctic,” she concluded.