Sustainable slops disposal for ports

29 Mar 2017
At the end of the distillation process several fuels are produced, including naphtha, fuel (GO and IFO) and light bitumen

At the end of the distillation process several fuels are produced, including naphtha, fuel (GO and IFO) and light bitumen

In March 2016, the European Sea Ports Organisation (ESPO) released its priorities for the year ahead, with port waste ranking fifth on the list. This high ranking highlights the difficulties many ports have in finding an effective and sustainable solution for slops disposal, writes Vincent Favier, CEO, Ecoslops.

The priority list for 2017 is expected shortly and port waste is likely to reappear on the list. However, this doesn’t need to be the case. Innovation and developments in clean technologies means that there are now cost-effective and environmentally beneficial solutions for ports when it comes to the sustainable disposal of slops.

Slops and sludges

But what are slops and why have slops become an issue for the maritime sector? Slops and sludges are hydrocarbon-rich industrial waste, produced in engine rooms through the purification of fuels, bilge waters from mechanical systems and oily ballast water and tank cleaning waters from tankers. All operating vessels generate them, leading to an estimated 98 million tonnes of slops being produced by the global commercial fleet each year.

Currently, approximately 90% of world trade is carried by the shipping industry. The International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) estimates that in 2015, this represented around 10 billion tonnes of seaborne trade. By 2030, it is estimated that this will reach closer to 17 billion tonnes. The demands on the global fleet are therefore rising, and as the role of the shipping industry increases so will the amount of industrial waste produced. With ports already struggling, the urgency for implementing a solution is reaching new heights.

In previous years, slops were collected from ports without issue, but this is no longer the case. Low crude prices are creating an overflow of slops within the shipping industry. Before the crude price dropped, the construction sector would provide a consistent market for slops collectors to sell to. Now, cheaper crude prices have encouraged these markets to purchase purer, virgin fuels instead, meaning that the traditional market for slops has diminished.

Slops are therefore building up in ports, many of which lack adequate reception facilities to deal with the increasing demand. Legally, vessels are required to dispose of their slops before they disembark, however they often lack the tank capacity to keep the waste products on board. If the reception facilities at the port of berth are full, then there can be significant issues with the discharge of the waste, potentially damaging the reputation of the port, and also creating environmental and sustainability issues within local port areas and communities.

Micro-refining technology

This is the vicious cycle that Ecoslops set out to disrupt with its innovative micro-refining technology. It is the first company to develop a technology capable of sustainably regenerating slops into valuable new fuels and light bitumen, which can then be sold back into the market to create a sustainable slops disposal cycle.

Based on a micro-refining process, the technology works in the following way: Firstly, to optimise 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 vaporised and at the end of the distillation process several fuels are produced, including naphtha, fuel (GO and IFO) and light bitumen.

There are various benefits for ports when a micro-refinery plant is installed in the vicinity. Firstly, it removes the hassle of disposal, with all slops going directly to the plant for regeneration. This minimises port pollution, with the slops being treated as opposed to burned, and therefore helps the port boost its environmental profile. At a time when sustainability is seen as an enormous added value by a growing proportion of ship owners, operators and charterers, this can make a tangible difference to a port’s competitiveness.

Port of Sinès

Proving this business model, Ecoslops established its first micro-refinery at the Port of Sinès. In 2012, Ecoslops won the tender to construct this first refinery and secured a 15-year sub-concession agreement for the exclusive rights to collect slops, but also solid waste within the port.

Since operations began, the unit has proven its industrial efficiency by recycling and upgrading over 98% of the hydrocarbon residue collected. The micro-refinery has been going from strength to strength and it is now on course to reach its target of regenerating 25,000 tonnes of slops by the end of 2017, rising to 30,000.

Since establishing itself at the Port of Sinès, Ecoslops has developed partnerships with ship owners, notably MSC, that call in the port to discharge their slops. The quality of service provided by Ecoslops, as well as the competitive prices offered, have enabled the amount of slops collected each month to grow from 400 metric tonnes (dehydrated) to more than double that figure today. This demonstrates that Ecoslops can substantially boost the collection of local slops due to the proven viability of its business model, and proves that implementing this model on a widespread basis will serve to drive the sustainable disposable and regeneration of slops across the shipping industry.

Following the success of the Port of Sinès operation, and validation of the technology, there is real enthusiasm within the industry to increase the sustainable treatment of slops. Indeed, port authorities are seeing it as a genuine solution to their infrastructure challenges and a point of competitive differentiation.

Since the opening of the facility in the Port of Sinès, more than 15 delegations from various European and non-European ports have visited the site to better understand the technology’s potential. In April 2016, Ecoslops was awarded the Future Programme’s Worldwide Innovation Challenge by the French government to continue the development of the technology.

Port of Marseille

Building on this success, Ecoslops signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Total, the international oil and gas company, in September 2016. The MOU is to establish a slops processing plant within the refinery in La Mede, Marseille. The aim of this unit will be to process slops unloaded in the Port of Marseille and in neighbouring ports.

Commercial contracts have also been signed with a number of clients, including large Portuguese and international groups, such as Soprema and EDP, further evidence of Ecoslops’ technological capacity and the quality of the production.

Most recently, Ecoslops has signed a Letter of Intent (LOI) with EGPC (Egyptian General Petroleum Corporation), through its subsidiary SSCO, in order to explore the feasibility of creating an oil residue collection and recycling plant in the Suez Canal region.

The feasibility study will explore the potential for slops collection and recovery services that could be installed and then used by ships passing through the canal. The company recently reconfirmed its ambition to sign another new project contracts by the end of 2017, bringing the balance to three projects including Marseille and Egypt.

Increasing need

The significant slops disposal challenge that the shipping industry currently faces is not without solution. The development and implementation of new technology is transforming all areas of the environmental impact of the shipping industry, including slops disposal.

As the global shipping industry’s tonnage increases in volume and the difficulties facing slops disposal continues, the need for a sustainable solution in each port will become ever more pressing. The eradication of this issue was one of the core reasons for Ecoslops’ formation. The development, proven validation and tangible success of its micro-refining technology is now recognised as a viable, commercial and sustainable solution for the disposal of slops, benefiting ports, ship owners and operators as well as traditional slops collectors.

Furthermore, it is representative of the increasing movement within shipping and ports where advanced technology and innovation is viewed as the most effective way to overcome the sustainability challenges that the industry faces.

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