IMO 2020: How Many Ships Have Scrubbers?

Monday July 23, 2018

After months of downbeat assessment for the scrubber market, in recent weeks orders are reported to have surged and the corresponding positive headlines have been difficult to miss.

So how many vessels actually have scrubbers? According to a recent survey of its membership by the Exhaust Gas Cleaning Systems Association (EGCSA), as of May 31, 2018 there were 983 vessels with scrubber systems installed or on order, translating into 1,561 individual scrubber towers.

This is notably higher than the 817 vessels reported by DNV GL last month, but still a far cry from the 3,800 predicted in official estimates by IMO's fuel availability study.

EGCSA says 63% of vessels are retrofit systems, with Asian yards dominating the installation work handling almost 60% of retrofits and 85% of new-building installs.

Of course, the number of systems installed only tells part of the story, and when it comes to understanding what the resulting HSFO bunker demand will be in 2020 it is the size of the vessels with scrubbers installed that also needs to be known.

"Until relatively recently the largest installed exhaust handling capacity has been for engine powers in the region of 25 to 30MW. However, the latest data shows that this has been well and truly exceeded by a retrofitted hybrid system for a 72MW container ship engine. Large capacity scrubbers are not confined to retrofits as the maximum size new building installation is a hybrid system for a 65MW engine," says EGCSA

Open loop scrubbing is by far the most popular scrubber type, consisting of 988 of the 1,561 individual scrubber towers installed or on order.

"EGCSA is not surprised that open loop scrubbing is preferred. It is the simplest scrubbing system and favoured by ship crews. Although many early adopters in the North Sea and Baltic fitted hybrid systems, they are operated for the majority of time in open loop. Open loop scrubbing has also been used for years by coastal power stations and by oil tanker inert gas (IG) systems when in port without environmental issues," says EGCSA.

"While closed loop and hybrid systems are available for enclosed bodies of water with little water exchange or where discharges are restricted by local regulation, EGCSA suggests the alternative of switching to low sulphur fuel for the port stay where open loop operation is not possible. The cost impact is likely to be limited as over 90% of fuel consumption is during full away at sea, which is where the financial benefits really accrue."

While the orderbook is certainly filling up, it is still very much possible to order a system in time for 2020.