European short sea operator, DFDS, has confirmed its commitment to the adoption of abatement, or ‘scrubber’, technology ahead of next year’s EU Sulphur Directive deadline and will invest €100m ($138m) in retrofitting its vessels with the equipment.

From January next year all ships sailing in the English Channel, North Sea and Baltic Sea will have to use bunker oil with a maximum 0.1% sulphur content – known as marine gas oil (MGO) – or use alternative methods to achieve the same effect. Scrubbers, which use sea water to wash sulphur dioxide (SO2) out of the exhaust gases, are one of the main alternatives, along with the switch to liquefied natural gas (LNG).

In a paper released by, DFDS, an early adopter of the abatement technology, the company said it had been testing a large scrubber on its freight vessel Ficaria Seaways since 2009. It reported that the results were promising and often better than the use of MGO, which is considerably more expensive. Therefore the company was proceeding with the investment stated.

The paper confirms points made by DFDS’ director of environment and sustainability, Poul Woodall, speaking at the Ro-Ro Shipping Conference in Gothenburg back in February this year, that the company intends to have fitted scrubbers to 18 of its vessels at a total cost of around €100m by 2015.

According to DFDS, the switch from heavy fuel oil (HFO), which is currently used, to MGO would cost the shipping industry an extra €3 billion a year. Around 13m tons of HGO is consumed in the areas covered by the legislation according to DFDS.

“By selecting scrubbers, DFDS will be able to continue using heavy fuel oil, while still meeting the environmental and legislative standards by cleaning the exhaust gases,” the company stated. “ This combination has a better overall environmental impact compared to using low-sulphur fuel because the central production of MGO requires more energy than the cleansing of the exhaust gases through scrubbers.”

However, DFDS admitted that the adoption of scrubber technology comes with its own substantial costs and pointed out that not all vessels can accommodate the technology. According to the company the cost of retrofitting a scrubber is between €4m-€7m per vessel. With the cost accrued in lost service during the fitment this can raise the cost to anywhere between €5.2 and €9.3m per vessel, as pointed out by Woodall in February.

Added to this is the fact that fitting scrubbers adds around 70 tonnes of hardware (plus tank content), removing revenue-generating capacity, and in operation, result in a slight loss of energy which increases the consumption of bunker by 1-2%. DFDS said this meant there were still many things to be decided and its challenge was to adapt to the changing environment.

“We have to work together in order to ensure the development of long-term solutions, including clear and appropriate rules for the use of scrubbers and rules that provide companies with a secure basis for deciding on investments,” said DFDS’ CEO, Niels Smedegaard.

Read more about the forthcoming sulphur emissions regulations and how they are likely to impact European short sea ro-ro providers here