5.3.2020 15:58:59 //
Anu Räsänen
Vesa Koivunen

Sustainable seafaring – bold solutions and great cooperation

Taking environmental aspects into account may be the most important responsibility perspective of seafaring today. Carbon dioxide emissions, effluent and waste are the most notable environmental challenges. Since 2015, sulfur emissions have been controlled with an EU directive that determines that the sulfur emissions limit of vessels operating in the Baltic Sea, the North Sea and the sea areas of North America is 0.1% of their weight. Since the beginning of 2020, this limit has been 0.5% of vessel weight in all other sea areas globally.

The purpose of these restrictions is to improve air quality and the state of marine environment. These also matter to the Port of Helsinki.
– In Helsinki, there are residential areas near many of the harbours, so it is especially important to keep the sulfur dioxide content of emissions as low as possible, says Andreas Slotte, head of sustainable development at the Port of Helsinki.
– A scrubber, an exhaust gas washer, is one way to achieve the content limit determined in the directives and take part in caring for our shared environment.

A family business from Piikkiö designed a scrubber

Langh Shipin toimitusjohtaja Laura Langh-Lagerlöf

Scrubbers have been developed by operators such as Wärtsilä, Alfa Laval, Yara – and by Langh Tech, a family company from Piikkiö.

Shipping company Langh Ship is a part of this same family business, and the company is used to solving problems and coming up with inventions. For example, they have developed necessary special decks and containers for ships. Therefore, it seemed natural to also develop a scrubber when one was needed for the company’s five ships.

They started developing the scrubber in 2011 to ensure that it was ready for use in 2015, when the directive came into force.
– There was no suitable system for our needs on the market back then. Only a few manufacturers had even tried a closed-cycle scrubber at the time, says Langh Ship’s Managing Director Laura Langh-Lagerlöf.

The Port manages scrubber waste

Langh explicitly wanted a closed–cycle scrubber for their ships. This means that the wastewater will not be discharged in the sea.
The water used in the scrubber will be cleaned and the waste mass separated from it will be deposited at ports. The waste mass from Langh’s scrubbers is very solid and can be transported to Riihimäki to be burned.

Laura Langh-Lagerlöf
The waste mass from Langh’s scrubbers is very solid and can be transported to Riihimäki to be burned.

– If the scrubber waste has a high water content, it cannot be utilised for anything and has no energy value. Then, we will also need to charge more for processing the waste, Andreas Slotte says.

The Port of Helsinki applies a ‘no special fee’ system, which means that the vessel’s waste fee covers nearly all waste generated onboard, both food waste and wastewater. The system’s purpose is to encourage the ships to deposit their waste at the port.

However, scrubber waste mass contains harmful substances and is, therefore, one of those waste types to which separate charges apply based on their processing costs.

– We ensure the appropriate treatment of waste and use these fees to cover the costs. The waste management of vessels is not a business to us. The authorities also supervise this, Slotte says.

The next step: cutting nitrogen emissions

Andreas Slotte estimated that a little under 20 of the ships visiting the harbours in Helsinki have a scrubber installed. In about ten of these, the scrubber is made by Langh Tech. 

In total, Langh Tech’s scrubbers have been installed on more than 60 ships. The same amount have been ordered and are waiting to be installed.

At the same time, new environmental technology is already being created at Langh Tech. Recently, the company has worked together with the German company MAN Energy Solutions, developing a system that helps decrease the nitrogen emissions of seafaring. This system is also based on washing exhaust gases.
– This system has also been installed on its first ship, Royal Arctic Line’s Tukuma Arctica, which operates in the North Atlantic, Langh-Lagerlöf says.

An inventor’s courage and determination

The development of the original sulfur scrubber will be continued, as there will always be details to refine.

Langh Tech’s maintenance manager, Priit Saarlaid, has had a central role in the development of the exhaust gas scrubber since the beginning in 2011.
– There was not much knowledge about scrubbers at the time. We started the development from scratch, without thinking about the challenges we may face, Saarlaid says.

Saarlaid describes how the first test version of the scrubber was a 200-litre barrel. This small-scale version was first used to recover the side streams of exhaust gases to investigate how the system works.

It proved to be functional, and the first full-scale scrubber was installed on Langh Ship’s M/S Laura in May 2013.

According to Saarlaid, Laura was an excellent ship for testing the scrubber. It departs from Tornio to the North Sea with a heavy iron load and sails among blocks of ice in the winter. This was a great way to see how the scrubber works in extreme conditions.
– During the course of the test period, which lasted a little under a year, we gained plenty of useful information and used that to make many small changes. No problems occurred that were big enough to make us give up.

Since 2015, Langh Tech’s scrubbers have been sold for the ships of other shipping companies. It has also been awarded, for example, the Baltic Sea Clean Maritime Award in 2017.

From lye to magnesium

One of the next development targets is related to the chemicals used in the scrubber. Today, exhaust gases are cleaned with the strongly alkaline sodium hydroxide, i.e. lye.
– Many shipping companies have now begun to use a magnesium solution, which is not as hazardous a chemical. This makes fuelling the ships easier and it is also a more environmentally-friendly alternative, Saarlaid says.

The seafaring sector is becoming more and more environmentally conscious. Sustainability is an important part of the Port of Helsinki’s strategy, and the company guides and encourages other operators in the harbour areas to make sustainable choices, as well.
Langh Tech keeps environmental perspectives at the core of its business.
– A few years ago we could not have even imagined how these operations will develop and how the demand will grow, Laura Langh-Lagerlöf states.