Ship Scrubber

Client corner: Your questions about scrubbers, answered

Jun. 30 2020 - 5 min

Bureau Veritas answers client questions about scrubber installations in the context of Covid-19, the fall of oil prices, and IMO’s Global Sulphur Cap.

Should I install a scrubber?

Scrubbers are one of three options for ship owners to comply with IMO’s Global Sulphur Cap. This regulation requires vessels to burn fuel with a sulfur content no greater than 0.50% m/m, unless abatement technology – e.g. a scrubber – is installed on board.

When determining whether to install a scrubber, the difference in fuel cost between High Sulfur Fuel Oil (HSFO) and Very Low Sulphur Fuel Oil (VLSFO) is often the deciding factor. While VLSFO was more expensive in early 2020, the drop in oil prices has since narrowed the price gap from over 200 USD/ton to ~50-60 USD/ton. This means that ship owners need to weigh the potential of short- and long-term recovery of oil prices when making the decision to install a scrubber.

What is the cost of scrubber installation?

Total costs for scrubber installation can depend on a number of factors, including ship type and size, but the average cost is about €2 million per scrubber. Depending on oil prices, the return on investment (ROI) period for scrubber installation can take from 1-4 years

Can shipyards perform scrubber installations?

Yes. Despite the slowdown of activity due to Covid-19, shipyards are gradually reopening and making up for the lost time. For owners looking to install a scrubber on a newbuild or retrofit an existing vessel that is under ten years old, shipyards are available to perform installation. This can be done alongside other necessary maintenance over the course of a few weeks.

What are the challenges of operating scrubbers?

For some scrubber retrofits, accelerated corrosion of piping systems is a concern, due to the low pH of wash water. Managing this requires special attention to and maintenance of overboard piping. In addition, frequent sensor failures were an issue during the initial operating period of scrubber systems, though these concerns have largely been resolved.

As with other technologies, crew do need to be trained to properly operate a scrubber. Systems should undergo regular maintenance, and scrubbers are subject to periodic class surveys.

Are there alternatives to installing a scrubber?

To comply with IMO’s Global Sulphur Cap requirements and pass ship exhaust inspections from port and local authorities, ship owners have three options.

  1. Fit or retrofit ships with a scrubber and continue using heavy fuel oil (HFO)
  2. Burn low sulfur fuel oil (LSFO)
  3. Use alternative green fuels (e.g. LNG)

How can classification societies help you with your scrubber installation?

Classification societies can guide ship owners throughout the scrubber certification and installation process. Experts first conduct a plan approval review based on dedicated class rules and statutory requirements, and surveyors then follow the installation process to assess compliance with approved drawings. After commissioning the scrubber system and a final survey at the first port of call, an IAPP certificate is issued on behalf of the flag state for scrubber use onboard.