New EPA Regulations could "fuel" more LNG-powered Marine Vessels

Starting August 1, 2012, new regs promulgated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will require large ships, such as cruise ships, that travel within 200 miles off the coasts of the United States and Canada to burn cleaner fuel. These restrictions, to be phased in next month and take full effect by 2015, mandate that the sulfur content of fuel which now averages 2.7 percent be significantly reduced to one percent in August; 0.1 percent by 2015. The EPA estimates that the full 2015 limits are analogous to eliminating 12.7 million cars from the road per day and removing the soot or sulfur dioxide emissions from 900,000 cars. Needless to say, there has been outcry from the cruise shipping industry which predicts that the fuel costs of meeting these new standards could eventually increase by 25 percent.

Beyond cruise ships, there might be an almost implausible upside to more stringent vessel emissions regulations, demonstrating an actively positive industry response to growing global concerns about air quality. There has been mounting attention in recent years paid to improving technologies in marine engineering. Gas turbines, hybrid diesel-gas systems, and dual fuel diesel electric engines can burn natural gas as a fuel and lessen ship pollution. While the capital costs for LNG-fueled systems are higher than for a typical diesel system, cost savings are eventually achieved because LNG is less expensive than other lower-emissions fossil fuels, and the engine life is longer than a typical diesel engine. Wartsila, a leader in the gas solutions marine industry, explained that the development of "dual-fuel capability means that when operating in the gas mode, the environmental impact is minimized since nitrogen oxides are reduced by some 85 percent compared to diesel operation, sulphur oxide emissions are completely eliminated as gas contains no sulphur, and emissions of CO2 are also lowered. Natural gas has no residuals, and thus the production of particulates is practically non-existent." Perhaps stricter pollution requirements on the waters and the abundant domestic natural gas supply are the impetus needed to lead to the increased production of LNG-driven marine vessels.