We only need to look at some of the media headlines from 2016 to see that a number of shipowners and operators are dumping their slops illegally at sea. Indeed, as late as December 2016, a leading cruise operator was ordered to pay a $40m dollar fine for the deliberate dumping of slops. If some big players are prepared to take the risk, it is not unreasonable to question how many smaller companies are following suit.
Marine Defenders estimate that between five and 15 of all large vessels discharge their oily waste into the oceans – approximately 5-7000 vessels. In fact, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has estimated that at least 3,000 incidents occur each year in which oily waste is deliberately discharged into European waters. This figure will naturally rise substantially when all global shipping lanes are considered.
The MARPOL legislation under Convention 73/78 and the European Directive 59/2000 regulations were specifically established to protect the environment from this harmful waste. When solutions for sustainable slops disposal are available, this deliberate discharge of oily waste is unacceptable and unnecessary.
So why are owners and operators deliberately polluting the environment and risking enormous fines, or even imprisonment? The troubling commercial times for the shipping industry are to blame in many cases. Where previously the construction sector provided a consistent market for slops collectors to sell to, the recent slump in crude prices has encouraged these markets to purchase purer fuels.
Now the traditional market for slops has diminished, the waste products are building up in ports, many of which do not have adequate reception facilities to deal with the increased demand. Legally, vessels are required to dispose of their slops, but they lack the tank capacity to keep the waste product on board, and if reception facilities are full then discharge becomes increasingly problematic.
This is the vicious cycle that Ecoslops set out to disrupt. It is the first company to develop a unique technology to sustainably regenerate slops into valuable new fuels and light bitumen, which can be sold back into the market, creating a sustainable cycle.
Based on a micro-refining process, the technology works in the following way: firstly, to optimize distillation, the slops are pre-treated. They are heated, decanted and using high-speed vertical centrifugation, the water, hydrocarbons and sediments are separated before the refining and distillation process. As the reprocessing of the water from the slops is fully integrated within the treatment process, the water is then depolluted using the latest techniques.
The water is returned to its natural environment in line with relevant environmental laws. After the water and sediment are removed, the slops are sent to the P2R vacuum distillation column, where they are heated. Under vacuum conditions, the hydrocarbons and heavy molecules are vaporized and at the end of the distillation process several fuels are produced, including naphtha, fuel (GO and IFO) and light bitumen.
There are benefits across the shipping supply chain. For ports, struggling with the influx of slops, it removes the hassle of disposal. Regenerating the slops as opposed to burning them also removes port pollution, improving their environmental profile, and enhancing competitiveness and reputation at a time when sustainability within the industry is seen as an enormous added value.
Shipowners can rest easy that their waste is treated appropriately and at the right cost. They also benefit from the boost to their sustainability profile that comes with creating a sustainability cycle for their slops – reusing the fuel produced by the industrial unit. Traditional slops collectors also benefit as Ecoslops purchases the product at a fair price, and it alleviates the pressures on storage capacity.
Ecoslops’ first micro-refinery in the Port of Sinès, Portugal, commenced industrial production in 2015, and is now successfully regenerating slops into fuel oil to be sold back into the supply chain. The refinery is on course to meet its annual target of producing at least 30,000 tons of regenerated slops this year.
Further building on this success and validating the technology, in September 2016, Ecoslops signed a memorandum of understanding with Total, the international oil and gas company, to establish a slops processing plant within the refinery in La Mede, Marseille, France. The aim of this unit will be to process slops unloaded in the Port of Marseille and neighboring ports.
In addition to this significant collaboration, Ecoslops has continued to develop other projects, particularly in Northern Europe, and is reiterating its objective of signing deals for three new sites by the end of 2017.
The technology is available to regenerate slops sustainably, avoiding the need to illegally dump the waste at sea. The development of this technology was the first step to tackling the challenge faced by the shipping industry; increasing its uptake and ensuring less waste is dumped will be the second. The industry has a real chance to combat this issue, and shift it down the list, while ensuring compliance and increasing profitability and commercial competitiveness at the same time.
Vincent Favier is CEO of Ecoslops.
The opinions expressed herein are the author’s and not necessarily those of The Maritime Executive.
This entry has been created for information and planning purposes. It is not intended to be, nor should it be substituted for, legal advice, which turns on specific facts.