The risks of using heavy fuel oil (HFO) for shipping operations could be greatly reduced by switching to liquefied natural gas (LNG), according to a study conducted by Vard Marine, a ship design and marine engineering company based in Vancouver British Columbia.
Most deep-sea shipping has traditionally operated on heavy fuel oil (HFO), which, when burned, releases numerous contaminants into the atmosphere. HFO also carries significant risks in the event of major accidental spills, says WWF-Canada, which commissioned the study. These risks are especially present in the Arctic, where particulate emissions are a factor in exacerbating regional climatic changes, and where the cold waters and harsh conditions make any cleanup of spills particularly difficult.
The study, Fuel Alternatives for Arctic Shipping, assesses the environmental impacts of HFO, diesel and LNG. The study also compares ship design, fuel consumption and the economic aspects of each marine fuel option.
The study found that the use of LNG reduced pollutants by up to 97 percent and greenhouse gas emissions by up to 25 percent. There was also a significant reduction in the risk of environmental damage from spills, as LNG dissipates into the atmosphere almost immediately. Moving to diesel fuel was also found to have environmental advantages, but to a lesser extent.
Though the environmental advantages are clear, there are many technical and practical barriers that exist to the immediate adoption of LNG as the sole Arctic fuel. LNG is cheaper than diesel, but current HFO prices are lower. A conceptual design also revealed that the cost of building LNG-fueled ships would be higher than conventional options and that no possibility exists to retrofit HFO-fueled ships currently in operation.
The says LNG is the fuel of the future for new ships to meet regulatory requirements to reduce impacts on the environment. The International Marine Organization has already banned the use and carriage of HFO in the Antarctic, and Norway has banned the use in select waters. Transport Canada’s recent Tanker Safety Expert Panel also highlighted the issue and made special mention of the risks of HFO in Arctic waters.