“A driver for innovation”

IMO 2020 will take effect on January 1, 2020: it is a regulation setting strict limits on the sulfur content in marine fuels. How will this affect ocean freight? Answers from Andrea Dorothea Schön, Sr Mgr Climate and Clean Air Management at DB Schenker

Andrea Dorothea Schön joined DB Schenker in 2007. 
For over ten years now, she has been responsible for 
DB Schenker’s climate protection program. Photo: Alex Kraus

Ms Schön, this buzzword IMO 2020 has been popping up a lot and is now about to become a reality. Please give us a little reminder what it stand for exactly.

It is about lowering the limit on the level of sulfur content permitted in marine fuels throughout the world by the International Marine Organization (IMO), from the current 3.5 to 0.5 percent. Limits as strict as this previously only applied in ECAs, in Emission Controlled Areas. These include the North Sea and the Baltic Sea, and the eastern and western coasts of the United States. To be precise, in those areas the limit is even lower,

at 0.1 percent. The IMO member states are responsible for implementing the new regulations.


As a climate expert, how to you rate this step?

It is a drastic measure. It ultimately goes back to the initiative by the European Union, in particular its Sulfur Directive 2005/33/EC from the year 2010. And it is urgently needed! 

Because there is no denying that the pollutants emitted by shipping, especially sulfur dioxide and soot particles, as well as nitrogen oxides, can cause serious harm to nature and to human health.


Is the industry adequately prepared for it?

For the shipping companies this is not a recent issue, thanks to the gradual introduction of the restrictions in ECAs since 2006; they have adapted to it. In addition, the IMO has ascertained that sufficient fuel is available for the measure “to go live” on January 1, 2020, instead of requiring a transitional period until 2025. And this has had a positive outcome. I therefore do not think that the customers will have to cope with major disruptions. As far as DB Schenker is concerned: our ocean freight colleagues are in the process of informing our customers on the implications regarding their business and of the environmental contributions achieved for their transports.


What will be the long-term impact of IMO 2020?

I am certain that the changeover will be a driver for innovation, as shipping companies are already engaged in testing cleaner fuels, such as liquefied natural gas (LNG). At the same time, controversial solutions are also in use: there are the so-called scrubbers, an after-treatment that itself produces toxic waste. For this reason, the Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC) of the IMO recently decided to conduct a “Scrubber Waste Water Impact Assessment.” What is still outstanding is a further reduction in the sulfur content of marine fuels to 0.1 percent, especially for ships calling at ports close to residential areas.

Ocean freight accounts for roughly 20 percent of the CO2 footprint of all transportation carried out or managed by

DB Schenker. For the other pollutants, including sulfur dioxide, the proportion is higher. Photo: Hapag-Lloyd

What previous measures were put in place to achieve cleaner ocean freight?

A significant reduction in emissions has already been achieved. Key drivers behind this success story were the ever larger and more energy-efficient ships in which the carriers have invested in recent years. Then there is slow steaming, together with the derating of the ships’ engines: the deliberate lowering of a ship’s speed wherever possible, in order to achieve lower fuel consumption. To this end, DB Schenker launched a first project together with Hapag-Lloyd as far back as 2006. 


What other contributions has DB Schenker made in this regard?

We’ve been involved in the Clean Cargo Ocean platform since 2014 in order to promote the reduction of all emissions by cooperating with shipowners and shippers. We always provide our customers with information about the most environmentally friendly transport options on principle. In relation to the issue of sulfur content, DB Schenker introduced a “Low Sulfur Program” in 2015, again together with Hapag-Lloyd. This allows customers to switch their cargo to 0.1 percent prorated sulfur content in non-regulated ports for a small surcharge.


IMO 2020 won’t be the last step. What will be next? What role will alternative fuels play, like the LNG you mentioned?

Yes, there is still more to come! LNG is an option in this context, but it can never be more than a bridging solution. Because LNG is also a fossil fuel, and it can therefore not produce a game-changing improvement in the climate balance. The best solution at present appears to be power fuels: synthetic fuels obtained entirely from renewable energy sources. Since they come in liquid form, they can be used without requiring major modifications to ship engines. DB Schenker is entering into agreements with its Preferred Carriers to facilitate mutual technological exchange and to set up pilot projects, also together with fuel providers and ambitious customers.

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