With ships, green begets green

By Tom Stieghorst

It’s logical to think that the EPA bid to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from commercial jets will raise costs for airlines and their customers. That’s the usual side-effect of more regulation.In the long run it may be true. But in the short run, judging from what’s happened in the cruise industry, it may not be.

Tom Stieghorst
Tom Stieghorst

Efforts to limit greenhouse gas emissions from ships at the International Maritime Organization have largely focused on making vessels more fuel-efficient. Less consumption of fuel equates to fewer greenhouse gases.

True, cruise companies have had to invest in new ways of saving energy, from hull coatings to LED and compact florescent lighting. Energy efficiency has also become a bigger factor in itinerary planning and ship speeds.

But the end result has been a reduction in fuel expense that companies can use to pad profits, invest in new ships and technologies or even hold the line on price increases.

To take one example, Carnival Corp. last fall said it had saved at least $2.5 billion in fuel costs over the last seven years as a result of a fleet fuel conservation program that has reduced carbon emissions by 12 billion kilograms over the same time frame.

In part, the program is an effort to comply with IMO rules on energy-efficient ship design and IMO’s development of a template for energy-efficient ship operations – amendments to the MARPOL convention that became effective in 2013.

Cutting fuel consumption is likely to be the main approach to reducing marine greenhouse gases for years to come.
Unlike sulfur dioxide emissions, which several cruise lines are reducing through the use of catalytic scrubbers in the exhaust stream, greenhouse gasses aren’t currently practical to scrub.

The main greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide, is hard to separate from other gases for treatment. And scrubbing by current methods is energy-intensive and costly. It adds between 50% and 84% to the cost of electricity produced by a power plant compared to plants that don’t have carbon capture technology, according to a U.S. Department of Energy study.

So reducing greenhouse gases from cruise ships may not only be sound for the environment but at the same time may be a good development for the bottom line. It’s always nice when doing right and doing well coincide.


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