Tech focus

'Global Water Intelligence' Breaks Down Race to Supply $50 Billion in Ballast Water Treatment Systems

In order to halt the worldwide spread of invasive or harmful marine species, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) passed the Convention for the Control and Management of Ships' Ballast Water and Sediments (BWM), requiring more than 65,000 ships over 400 gross tons to adopt approved ballast water management plans. For most ships this will require the installation of a type-approved ballast water treatment system. The convention, adopted in 2004, was plagued with delays for years, but now is finally "setting sail" as reported in a recent feature article published by Global Water Intelligence, the leader in high-value business information for the water industry.

The article titled "Starting the Voyage of a Lifetime", published in the February 2017 issue of Global Water Intelligence reads, "The long overdue ratification of the 2004 IMO ballast water management convention is expected to unleash a flood of orders for treatment systems," and then asks, "How will the technology market shape up?" Several expert industry members are interviewed throughout the article, and the overarching sentiment of the piece is that, with an estimated $50 billion at stake for ballast water treatment systems, suppliers, ship operators, and investors will be well-served by developing a thorough understanding of the challenges and potential solutions inherent to ballast water management.

The fundamental challenges facing new ballast water treatment systems are capital and operating costs, size and power requirements, efficacy, and residual toxicity. US Coast Guard approval is also crucial because as Don Stephen, VP Product Management at De Nora was quoted, "Very few people (operators) would take the chance of procuring a system that is unable to be USCG approved because almost certainly there would be a chance of the ship traveling into US waters at some point."

Ultraviolet and electro-chlorination are today's leading systems, but both have issues that must be overcome. For one, chlorination-based technologies do not typically treat water upon discharge of ballast water, but rather treat water only during uptake. UV systems, on the other hand, treat at both ends. Young Chang, CEO of C&C Panasia, explains that though this is not currently an issue, the USCG and Marine Environmental Protection Committee have been investigating whether all systems should treat on discharge as well as uptake, following the discovery that some organisms hidden in sediment may not be killed. "It is highly possible in the next few years there will be new requirements saying that all types of treatment systems must treat on deballasting," Chang commented. "If that happens, non-UV based technologies will have a tough time to accommodate that and the system may get more complicated." Another issue with chlorine-based systems is that their active chemicals must be removed from discharge water, meaning a neutralizer injection is required during deballasting to avoid discharge of harmful chemicals.

UV-based systems are not without their problems, however. While chlorine-based systems are capable of killing waterborne microorganisms, UV systems inactivate microbes by making them unable to reproduce, but leave them alive nonetheless, conflicting with the language of the IMO convention regarding discharged organisms.

In order to meet the USCG requirements, substantial power increases in UV systems were necessary to sufficiently neutralize organism activity. Tore Andersen, CEO of Optimarin, explained to GWI how the company was able to overcome this potential challenge. "We used our high power capacity - the biggest difference between Optimarin and other UV makers is our very strong UV lamp."

Dennis Calvert, the CEO of BioLargo, Inc. (BLGO), singled out what appears to be one of the most critical problems of all when he shared his thoughts with GWI, "The larger issue is power availability on the ships. Energy efficiency for BWTS will be a key prerequisite to advance in the market… they require large amounts of energy to operate and may require more energy than what ships can currently supply." He continued, "There are very few examples where older ships have sufficient excess power for these new BWTS." According to Calvert, this problem doesn't afflict all ships, as he was quoted, "Some ships will however not have this problem, such as LNG with regasification compressors and large container ships with reefer power available." It's clear that for those ships with stringent power supplies, energy efficiency of ballast water treatment systems is a key factor dictating their adoption.

While UV and chlorine-based technologies are the dominant incumbents in the ballast water treatment market, novel technological solutions are beginning to crop up. BioLargo, Inc. has been hard at work developing a low-energy solution to the ballast water challenge, as explained by Dennis Calvert, "BioLargo became a new contender in the race when in last August, our researchers at the University of Alberta unveiled a breakthrough new water treatment technology that is neither UV nor chlorine-based. BioLargo's AOS System is a filter/reactor that uses proven filtration with small amounts of iodine and low electric current flow. It is several times more powerful than chlorine, substantially faster, and with only a small fraction of the capital and operating costs." The AOS System is billed as the low energy solution and is targeting entry into the ballast water market by 2019. "While we have some scale-up work to do to meet the volume requirements for the maritime industry, we believe our value proposition is unique, and the industry clearly needs a low energy solution like ours," Calvert reported to GWI.

For more details about the GWI article, "Global Water Intelligence" is published monthly to its subscribers around the world.

Some example shipping operators, representing only 235 vessels out of an estimated 65,000 to be impacted by the BWM IMO Convention and requiring approved ballast water treatment systems are:

  • Navios Maritime Holdings Inc. (NYSE:NM) operates a fleet of 61 vessels.
  • Diana Shipping Inc. (NYSE:DSX) operates a fleet of 48 vessels.
  • DryShips Inc. (NASDAQ:DRYS) operates 13 vessels.
  • Eagle Bulk Shipping Inc. (NASDAQ:EGLE) operates a fleet of 43 ships.
  • Star Bulk Carriers Corp. (NASDAQ:SBLK) operates a fleet of 70 vessels.

With the new regulations coming into force in September 2017, the shipping industry faces an intense challenge working to conform to the new operating procedures. The technology market will no doubt be exciting to watch. The GWI article wrapped up with Calvert's comments, "We believe the systems that are flexible, modular in design, and remain low cost and offer low energy solutions while meeting volume rates will take the lead … the market prescribed by these regulations is so large in scope that an army of companies will be busy for the next two decades."


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