Matson completes sulfur-scrubbing exhaust upgrades

  • The Matson Anchorage is seen at the Port of Anchorage on May 16. The container ship is the last of the company’s three in the Alaska fleet to receive upgrades to its exhaust system using a “wet scrubber” system to curb sulfur dioxide emissions within 12 miles of coastline. (Photo/Elwood Brehmer/AJOC)

Much of what Alaskans buy locally is now getting here on cleaner ships.

Pacific shipper Matson Inc. announced in May that its containership, the Matson Anchorage, is now outfitted with a “wet scrubber” system aimed at eliminating sulfur emissions from the ship’s exhaust.

The Matson Anchorage was the last of the company’s three Alaska-dedicated vessels to get the exhaust scrubbers. The Matson Kodiak and Tacoma were outfitted with the system last year.

Honolulu-based Matson President Ron Forest said in a formal statement that the company consulted heavily with the U.S. Coast Guard and the Environmental Protection Agency to get the unique exhaust scrubber system approved.

“Our hybrid system is new, so it has required extensive testing and independent analysis to earn federal certification,” Forest said. “The Coast Guard and the EPA have been enthusiastic about the environmental benefits and worked closely with our engineers to develop and certify our new system. It has become a good example of public-private sector partnership in bringing environmental innovation to the marketplace.”

Matson Alaska Vice President Ken Gill described the system in an interview as one that “washes the emissions” out of the vessels’ diesel exhaust.

The closed-loop scrubber system works by spraying a fresh water-sodium hydroxide solution into a ship’s exhaust system. The water is then collected and stored for shore side disposal and treatment.

An extremely alkaline, or basic, compound, sodium hydroxide is the primary component of lye, a fundamental ingredient in many soaps. When put in contact with sulfur dioxide found in diesel exhaust it bonds to the sulfur and prevents it from being emitted into the atmosphere.

“We pump a tremendous amount of water up these (exhaust) stacks. It’s really tremendous technology,” Gill described.

The exhaust scrubbers are Matson’s way of complying with the international Emission Control Area, or ECA, standards.

Approved as an amendment to the U.N. treaty Marpol in 2010, ECA standards require ships operating within 200 miles of the U.S. or Canadian coasts to use fuel containing less than 0.1 percent sulfur by 2015. A 1 percent sulfur limit on fuel took effect in August 2012.

The control area was instituted as a way to improve air quality in U.S. and Canadian ports. EPA projects the tighter emissions standards will reduce sulfur emissions by 920,000 tons before 2020.

While simply buying the ultra-low sulfur — and more expensive — diesel fuel was an option to comply with the ECA, many large vessel operators chose alternative routes to lower their sulfur output.

Those working to comply with the emissions standards long-term were granted waivers to the 2015 deadline so modifications could be made to vessels without impacting scheduled freight or passenger traffic.

Matson’s fellow Washington-to-Alaska scheduled shipper Tote Maritime chose to convert its roll-on roll-off vessels from diesel to LNG starting in 2015.

Cruise industry giant Carnival Corp., which operates Princess Cruises and Holland America Line in Alaska, announced in 2013 it would install exhaust scrubbers similar to those used by Matson.

Matson employs the scrubbers when its vessels are operating within 12 miles of the coastline, according to a company release.

Matson Inc. purchased Horizon Lines Inc.’s Alaska business for $469 million in 2015 to enter the Alaska market. Then, in August of last year Matson announced the acquisition of another shipping company, Span Alaska, for $197 million in cash.

Counting the exhaust upgrades, Matson has spent about $50 million on improvements and equipment in its Alaska operation since purchasing Horizon.

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Elwood Brehmer can be reached at elwood.brehmer@alaskajournal.com.

Updated: 
05/31/2017 - 12:55pm

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