French company claims its filtered ferry engine tackles air pollution

Premature deaths caused by air pollution is expected to rise more than 50% by 2050.
Baba Tamim
La Méridionale's Le Piana.
La Méridionale's Le Piana.

La Méridionale 

A French shipping company La Méridionale has unveiled what it claims as the world's first ferry utilizing filters to eliminate air pollution from engine fumes.

The company, based in the southern French port of Marseille, demonstrated its "innovative ship Le Piana, which uses filters to capture almost all air pollutants from the boat's exhaust fumes," according to a report published in France24 on Tuesday.

"The filters captured 99 percent of sulfur oxides emitted by the ferry's four engines, as well as 99.9 percent of particulate matter created from the burning of its heavy fuel," the company claimed.

"We didn't have to look too far. We didn't invent anything," said Christophe Seguinot, the company's technical director. "The challenge for us was to make it suitable for a marine setting."

French company claims its filtered ferry engine tackles air pollution
Le Piana.

The filters employ existing technology used in power plants or incineration facilities. Sodium bicarbonate is pumped into exhaust gasses, triggering a chemical interaction with the minute particles created during combustion.

The contaminants can then be removed using an industrial air filter that has been in use for more than 30 years, according to Seguinot.

"It's an unprecedented solution, a world first," La Méridionale's Chairman Marc Reverchon told reporters on board the blue-and-white Piana, which sails between Marseille and the French island of Corsica.

The dense plumes of filthy brown smoke observed above most ships are caused by heavy fuel oil, often known as bunker fuel, one of the least expensive but most polluting forms of transportation fuel. It also contains a lot of sulfur, which can lead to respiratory issues and acid rain.

"The ferry company has a contract with chemicals supplier Solvay, which will dispose of the hazardous filter residue with the intention of recycling it later," according to Seguinot.

French company claims its filtered ferry engine tackles air pollution
Le Piana.

Regulation and environmental concerns

The amount of sulfur permitted is regulated differently depending on location. Ultra-clean gasoline is required at ports in North America, the North Sea, and the Baltic Sea in Europe.

Marseille, home to ferries, container ships, and cruise ships, has recently experienced increased smog. The maritime industry is regarded to be primarily blamed for the issue.

The employment of so-called "scrubbing" technology, which involves spraying water into exhaust plumes to trap some contaminants, is preferred by some ship owners. However, environmentalists have drawn attention to the fact that water is frequently released into the ocean after that.

Meanwhile, some companies are developing electric and sail-powered ships, and others are testing cleaner liquefied natural gas (LNG) or methanol-powered engines to overcome air pollution.

Regulators and tightening industry standards are putting pressure on shipping companies to reduce their emissions of greenhouse gasses and pollutants into the atmosphere, but environmental campaigners want faster action.

Le Piana already complies with new standards that will go into effect in 2025 to limit the sulfur content in marine fuels in the Mediterranean to 0.1 percent, Reverchon claimed.

Nine million fatalities are attributed to air pollution worldwide each year, according to Atmosud, France's regional air quality monitoring body. "Air pollution has an annual economic impact on France of about 100 billion euros ( around 99 billion USD), mostly in the form of increased health care costs."

UN warns

The United Nations (UN) issued a statement on Wednesday, the eve of the International Day of Clean Air for blue skies, stressing the need for collective accountability and action.

"This year's theme of 'The Air We Share' focuses on the transboundary nature of air pollution, stressing the need for collective accountability and action," the UN said.

The theme "highlights the need for immediate and strategic international and regional cooperation for more efficient implementation of mitigation policies and actions to tackle air pollution."

Air pollution is the single most significant environmental risk to human health and one of the leading preventable causes of death and disease worldwide, accounting for an estimated 6.5 million premature deaths in 2016, according to the UN.

It disproportionately affects women, children, and the elderly, particularly in low-income populations. This is because they are frequently exposed to high levels of ambient and indoor air pollution from cooking and heating with wood fuel and kerosene.

Air pollution is a global issue with far-reaching consequences due to its long-distance transport. Without aggressive intervention, the UN warned that the number of premature deaths caused by ambient air pollution is expected to rise by more than 50% by 2050.