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Earth Transportation Technology

One Giant Cargo Ship Pollutes As Much As 50M Cars 595

thecarchik writes "One giant container ship pollutes the air as much as 50 million cars. Which means that just 15 of the huge ships emit as much as today's entire global 'car park' of roughly 750 million vehicles. Among the bad stuff: sulfur, soot, and other particulate matter that embeds itself in human lungs to cause a variety of cardiopulmonary illnesses. Since the mid-1970s, developed countries have imposed increasingly stringent regulations on auto emissions. In three decades, precise electronic engine controls, new high-pressure injectors, and sophisticated catalytic converters have cut emissions of nitrous oxides, carbon dioxides, and hydrocarbons by more than 98 percent. New regulations will further reduce these already minute limits. But ships today are where cars were in 1965: utterly uncontrolled, free to emit whatever they like." According to Wikipedia, 57 giant container ships (rated from 9,200 to 15,200 twenty-foot equivalent units) are plying the world's oceans.
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One Giant Cargo Ship Pollutes As Much As 50M Cars

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  • by grub ( 11606 ) <> on Tuesday November 23, 2010 @05:43PM (#34323608) Homepage Journal

    Screw the people that frown on those who drive Hummers.

    I want to be rich enough to say "I'm taking the family on a cruise across the ocean on our personal cargo ship." The captain would floor it from the dock and leave a 30 km long black trail of smoke.
    • Re:One can dream... (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Rei ( 128717 ) on Tuesday November 23, 2010 @06:30PM (#34324304) Homepage

      This whole thing is so distorted. The REASON that we don't mandate these ships use strong pollution controls or clean fuels is specifically because pollution is part quantity, part location. If there's nobody to breathe a pollutant before it degrades, it's not hurting anyone. Car exhaust is released at ground level in populated areas.

      In terms of fuel consumed and CO2 released, ship pollution from transporting a car (and all of its component parts) is a small fraction of the fuel consumed and CO2 released in the vehicle's lifespan. Cargo ships are the most efficient way, from a fuel and CO2 perspective, to move a given mass of freight (even more than trains), at nearly 500 miles per gallon per ton. You can haul your average car from Tokyo to LA using under 20 gallons of fuel. Now, there's going to be all sorts of soot and sulfur released from that fuel because the regulations are so lax -- but who's it going to hurt in the middle of the Pacific's vast nutrient-devoid dead zones? You're probably doing more to fertilize them than hurt them.

      The actual pollution problems, BTW, are when the ships show up in port. The "last leg" of travel causes the vast majority of their health consequences, and there's a lot of work underway to clean it up.

      • If there's nobody to breathe a pollutant before it degrades, it's not hurting anyone.

        A great many pollutants never degrade. Many pollutants don't have to be inhaled or ingested in any way to cause real damage. Not all damage is direct biological damage.

        Now, there's going to be all sorts of soot and sulfur released from that fuel because the regulations are so lax -- but who's it going to hurt in the middle of the Pacific's vast nutrient-devoid dead zones?

        How about everyone? Perhaps you've heard of global warming? Acid rain? You don't have to be anywhere near the smokestack for it to have a real effect on your life.

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by pavon ( 30274 )

          How about everyone? Perhaps you've heard of global warming?

          Did you read his post:
          Cargo ships are the most efficient way, from a fuel and CO2 perspective, to move a given mass of freight
          Or the article:
          responsible for 3.5% to 4% of all climate change emissions.

          Acid rain? You don't have to be anywhere near the smokestack for it to have a real effect on your life.

          That is more of a problem, although still relatively near the ports, as acid rain tends to form up to 100's km from the source, not so much at 1000's km.

      • by DZign ( 200479 ) <averhe@gma[ ]com ['il.' in gap]> on Wednesday November 24, 2010 @03:52AM (#34328312) Homepage

        Since a few years ships are already required to switch to low-sulfor fuel when they come near the coast or enter ports..

        Several types of marine fuel exist: MGO, MDO, HFO,..
        HFO (heavy fuel oil) is getting banned in some parts of the world.
        And yes this means vessels actually have 2 or 3 different types of fuel on board and switch over from one type to another.

        The economic crash of 2 years ago was beneficiary for the environment btw.
        The years before it, prices for renting a ship (baltic dry index) was so high that only the rent made up the largest part of the cost, fuel costs were low in comparison. So cargo vessels were instructed to go full speed (and consume/pollute more).
        Now the BDI dropped, the rent is lower and it's again a matter of optimising days at sea / consumption (slower speed = less consumption, so renting a vessel 1 or 2 days longer can be better because fuel savings are more than the extra rent you pay for these days).

        A lot of old (and more polluting) vessels also were laid in docks or are scrapped the past 2 years as there suddenly wasn't enough cargo to transport..

        disclaimer: I work at the it department of a group of companies that operates cargo vessels.. have worked on a program to register their trips and optimize fuel costs/speed/...

  • by BadAnalogyGuy ( 945258 ) <> on Tuesday November 23, 2010 @05:44PM (#34323614)

    We should get rid of these ships.

    Let us DRIVE our containers across the ocean!

    • by MBGMorden ( 803437 ) on Tuesday November 23, 2010 @05:47PM (#34323670)

      Let us DRIVE our containers across the ocean!

      While that likely wouldn't work, you do realize that for thousands of years we moved items by sea all across the globe via a completely free and environmentally method of propulsion: the sail.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by MoonBuggy ( 611105 )

        As usual it's a very simple matter of economics - were it cheaper to use sailing ships (after balancing their dependence on weather conditions and need for trained sailors against the cost of fuel and need for trained engineers) the companies would be commissioning them so fast it'd make your head spin.

        The real trick would be pinning the (rather hard to quantify) 'environmental clean-up costs' back onto the guys doing the polluting. If it's cheaper to pollute and clean up the mess, no harm done - if it's ch

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by Dare nMc ( 468959 )

          It isn't just about cheaper, it is also about speed and consistency. IE If a shipping company needs to moves 400 million Tons, they can either have 50 ships going 20 mph or 100 ships going 10 mph. Which wastes more resources, building 50 more ships, or powering 50 ships... Also the Ports are scheduled to 100% capacity 6 months ahead, mis-port by a day because of low wind, you might be waiting a long time for another chance.
          Also Apple doesn't want to load 6 months of supply of their Ipods into a containe

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by catbutt ( 469582 )
        And probably over those thousands of years, the number of pound / miles shipped equalled about one weeks worth of shipping in the modern world.
        • by MBGMorden ( 803437 ) on Tuesday November 23, 2010 @06:09PM (#34324034)

          Point taken, but consider the following:

          1. If the technology had continued to be developed, I'm sure we would have seen larger, faster, and more sophisticated sailing vessels used for shipping, likely resulting in far greater efficiencies today even with sailing compared to then.

          2. When you consider the utter mess we're making of this planet, reduced shipping capacity isn't that bad of a thing to accept. It's akin to finally realizing that though racking up credit card debt can net you a lot of goodies, eventually you have to stop. That may mean a reduction in life style, but it's something you have to accept eventually. As it is now, there's no damn reason why the spoons and forks in your local stores should need to be shipped from halfway across the friggen planet. Manufacture some of the small trivialities closer to home. Make sure that the stuff we're shipping across the oceans have a legitimate NEED to travel that distance. Artwork? Family heirloom? Passengers? Sure, send those over. The knick-knacks at the dollar store though? I don't have much sympathy if that particular valve is shut off.

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by h4rr4r ( 612664 )

            Sure there is a reason, it is cheap as hell to ship them. Cheaper than making them close to home. You might not need those cheap forks, but who are you to deprive our working class of affordable tableware?

          • by c0lo ( 1497653 ) on Tuesday November 23, 2010 @07:04PM (#34324780)

            That may mean a reduction in life style, but it's something you have to accept eventually.

            (hmmm... you seems so willing to sacrifice my lifestyle... what about yours?)

            The knick-knacks at the dollar store though? I don't have much sympathy if that particular valve is shut off.

            Better still... download them over the Internet.

            Of course I'm kidding ... actually going on a tangent (what would /. be good for, other than switching the thoughts from useful work, so why not continue?)... anyway, that's a major difference between IT and industries producing tangible goods: while for the later one can quantify the impact on environment of off-shoring/outsourcing practices, in IT the impact is too small to count.

            Now that the context is set, here comes the question: would you be willing to sacrifice your life-style (not mine) in the conditions your everyday knick-knacks costs you 3-4 times over, while living under the constant risk of having your job outsourced?
            (and, if you are not working in IT, why do you feel entitled to recommend solutions that "should be good for all"?)

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Gadget_Guy ( 627405 ) *

      Let us DRIVE our containers across the ocean!

      That raises an interesting point. These ships travel a lot farther than any car ever would. If the ships could be replaced by cars driving the same route, how many cars would it take to produce the same amount of pollution? I wager it would be far fewer than 50 million.

  • Which is worse? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by decipher_saint ( 72686 ) on Tuesday November 23, 2010 @05:45PM (#34323630)

    One big ship or lots of smaller ships? Is it time to lose "the fear" and go nuclear on cargo vessels?

    • Re:Which is worse? (Score:5, Informative)

      by RsG ( 809189 ) on Tuesday November 23, 2010 @06:15PM (#34324096)

      I suspect the resistance to using a nuclear cargo vessel has less to do with anti-nuclear fears and more to do with the cost of operating them.

      This has come up before, and I'll say it again for good measure: naval nuclear reactors are expensive. If they weren't, you can be sure the military would use them on cruisers and destroyers. As it stands the only vessels that use a nuke plant are carriers and subs, both expensive as hell, and the latter only use nuke plants because they don't need to surface for oxygen (on a pure operating cost basis diesel-electric subs win out).

      Plans for nuclear surface ships below carrier weight have been put forward, and axed repeatedly, almost always on the basis of cost alone. And if the American navy says something is too expensive, believe me, it's too expensive.

      Now, what I wonder is, would a cargo vessel be less polluting if it used a multi-hull design to reduce drag and was fitted with more advanced filtration system to mitigate the worst of its exhaust? That's a lot more achievable than the nuclear option, and wouldn't sacrifice cargo capacity, unlike the sail option put forward earlier in the thread.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by cobrausn ( 1915176 )

        All the current Navy subs and ships that use nuclear reactors use reactors designed in the 60s / 70s. The decomissioned cruisers were expensive because of the cost of keeping enough trained personnel (like myself) on hand was much higher when you have to sustain those people out at sea; something like 50% of the staff of a nuclear cruiser was engine room staff.

        We live in a new era as far as this technology is concerned - new designs are mostly automated and very efficient. We need to take this step forwar

        • Re:Which is worse? (Score:5, Insightful)

          by RsG ( 809189 ) on Tuesday November 23, 2010 @06:49PM (#34324600)

          Well, I agree with you that we need to take the nuclear option much more seriously, for power generation purposes. Something needs to replace all those coal fired power plants, and we're still a ways off from being able to build commercial fusion reactors.

          However, I'm a realist. I can't imaging nuclear power ever winning points on cost. And the reason for this is not just that the current crop of 40 year old+ reactors is expensive to operate.

          If you want to make any piece of technology virtually failure safe, you can do so. You can make a building that will survive every earthquake. Or a computer that cannot crash. Or (insert-imaginary-perfect-machine-here).

          What you can't do is make such technology cheap. Systematic redundancy, backups upon backups, religious levels of maintenance, every piece of equipment built to specifications that vastly exceed the operational reality - all of these are possible, and they all cost a fortune.

          There are only a couple of areas of human engineering where we build with such precise paranoia around failure. Nuclear power is one of them. And the reason for doing this with nuclear power is that we're properly paranoid about it, because failure carries with it such consequences. An excellent study in this is to contrast Three Mile Island (where the safeties were well designed) with Chernobyl (not so much).

          Nuclear power done right is going to be expense. We can cut more corners with anything else. Now, this doesn't mean we shouldn't use nuclear power, but it does mean that the best use for it is in large commercial power plants.

          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by Dr. Spork ( 142693 )
            I suspect that smaller modern reactors are just inherently safer. Toshiba is selling one that you bury in the back yard, and forget about it for 5 years. At that point, they come in and refuel it. It generates enough power to run a small town and the total number of maintenance staff it requires is zero. That's the kind of reactor that should be powering cargo ships.
      • by garyebickford ( 222422 ) <> on Tuesday November 23, 2010 @07:40PM (#34325166)

        Now, what I wonder is, would a cargo vessel be less polluting if it used a multi-hull design to reduce drag

        Multihulls are very good at going fast - as long as they don't have to push a lot of water. Their advantage disappears rapidly when the weight goes up. I am in the process of getting into cruising (I have a 40 foot sailboat I'm refitting), so I've followed the progress of multihulls for a while. Small multihulls such as for cruising and other recreational applications work well because they provide a lot of interior space, and a certain type of stability (although there are costs involved), and they are fast - but many cruisers have found that once they pile on all the junk you need to live on a boat, the cats sink lower in the water and slow down.

        Boats in displacement mode are _very_ efficient movers of mass, as long as you don't try to go to fast. Most of the energy that is expended at the front of the boat moving the water out of the way is recovered at the back of the boat, as the water moves back into place. The faster you go, the more water is pushed vertically out of the surface, and most of that energy is lost. And when you get close to 'hull speed' (where period of the bow wave becomes close to the length of the hull), you rapidly multiply the energy required - you're basically always driving 'uphill'. The purpose of the big bulb on the front of big ships is to length the effective hull and increase the hull speed. But drop the speed to just a bit below hull speed, and you are back into the efficient displacement mode again.

    • by DesScorp ( 410532 ) <DesScorp.Gmail@com> on Tuesday November 23, 2010 @06:18PM (#34324130) Homepage Journal

      One big ship or lots of smaller ships? Is it time to lose "the fear" and go nuclear on cargo vessels?

      Fear has nothing to do with it. Expense does. We've built nuclear merchant vessels before. They're just too expensive to operate. We built a fast, beautiful nuclear merchant ship (the NS Savannah) as a technology demonstrator, and when companies looked at the costs involved, they simply didn't see the point. Only a handful of nuke cargo ships were ever built, and only the Russians used them for any length of time.

    • Two words: Somalian pirates.

      That can be dealt with better than it is (including my favorite of simply having a couple snipers and shoot anyone in a small ship that comes within 1km without radio contact). Of course, others would be joining in the game to try to capture a ship, just to get the radioactive goo to make a dirty bomb. Same answer: Death by .308 inflicted lead poisoning.

      Nuke ships, it would seem, are the obvious answer and the technology is perfect for this type of shipping, long runs at fairl

  • First off, this article appears ripped straight from the UK Guardian. Secondly, what's with all the promotion of HighGear Media sites recently? Slashdot is not your megaphone, guys, lay off.

    • by cappp ( 1822388 ) on Tuesday November 23, 2010 @06:05PM (#34323968)
      Also, it's a story from 9th April 2009 which was then covered on 15th April on said site. The original Guardian piece can be >found here []. Hell Reuters posted an article in responce [] on 20 November 2009 where they added an interesting point

      Shipping is slowing climate change by spewing out sunlight-dimming pollution but a clean-up needed to safeguard human health will stoke global warming, experts said Friday. "So far shipping has caused a cooling effect that has slowed down global warming," Jan Fuglestvedt, of the Center for International Climate and Environmental Research Oslo (CICERO), told Reuters....Toxic sulphur dioxide emitted by burning bunker fuel accounted for the deaths of an estimated 60,000 people worldwide in 2001 through cancer and heart and lung disease, according to a previous study. A clean-up would save thousands of lives. But sulphur pollution from the fast-growing shipping industry also helps create clouds by providing tiny seeds around which droplets form. Clouds have a cooling effect since sunlight bounces off their white tops.

  • by guruevi ( 827432 ) <evi&evcircuits,com> on Tuesday November 23, 2010 @05:49PM (#34323702) Homepage

    Most of those ships are not registered in the US or Europe or any 1st world country. They are registered in Panama, Aruba or wherever there are no taxes and no regulations. And you can't really stop them coming into your harbors without affecting the local or even global economy.

    On the other hand, how much pollution would it generate to bring those products in on more smaller ships or on trucks through a series of tubes in the ocean.

    • Impose tariffs based on what kind of cargo ship the stuff came in on. That's what they can do about it.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      One option is to impose a tarriff on goods shipped on boats that don't meet regulations. Customers could also be proactive and buy things that were manufactured in their own continent, if not their own country/state.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Zumbs ( 1241138 )
      If the ships were not allowed to go to port (or had to pay an extreme toll) in an industrialized county, it is possible that the owners would make more by modifying the ships to abide by regulations than by going for a small fleet. But it is very likely that it would require some heavy handed regulations, and decisive action from governments to force Maersk and the other large shipping corporations to follow the new regulations.
  • Concentration (Score:3, Interesting)

    by jpmorgan ( 517966 ) on Tuesday November 23, 2010 @05:51PM (#34323748) Homepage

    Devil's advocate here: where do these ships pollute?

    The environment can 'support' a certain rate of air pollution, but the diffusion rate of air pollution means that certain regions build up localized pollution far higher than the average pollution level (e.g. LA, New York, etc..). Car emissions and factory emissions need to be fairly strict to ensure that levels remain low, despite the concentration of pollution caused by urbanization. By its very nature, container ship owners want their vessels at sea as much as possible, and while they're crossing oceans, there's not exactly any urban concentration effect going on. So it makes sense that this kind of shipping be held to the lower standard of emissions (i.e., basic environmental sustainability).

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      As far as I know (and my knowledge is limited), particles do not stay in one spot.
      Just like a volcano eruption in Iceland changes climate on the US west coast eventually.
      Obviously with a different scale of magnitude.
      • Re:Concentration (Score:4, Informative)

        by jpmorgan ( 517966 ) on Tuesday November 23, 2010 @06:20PM (#34324166) Homepage

        But that's exactly the point I'm making. Emission standards for cars aren't based on the 'sulfur emissions in Montana impacting a farmer in Wyoming' basis, they're set on 'sulfur emissions in New York impacting someone in New York.' By the time particulates from a ship in the middle of the pacific have diffused their way to population centers, they're insignificant. Otherwise LA's infamous smog clouds would cover the entire western seaboard.

        Imposing the same standards on container ships doesn't make sense, since the standards are there to solve a problem that container ships don't have.

  • Assumptions (Score:3, Insightful)

    by rjstanford ( 69735 ) on Tuesday November 23, 2010 @05:54PM (#34323802) Homepage Journal

    If you assume that the average vessel pollutes 1/10 as much as the largest, dirtiest container ship, ass TFA does, then you've made one hell of an assumption.

    Not that it's not a problem, but - really - saying that 10 small coastal vessels equals one massive container ship undermines what sounded like a reasonable point and makes me question everything about their maths. And I'm generally in agreement with them!

  • by Tailhook ( 98486 ) on Tuesday November 23, 2010 @05:59PM (#34323868)

    Pressure is mounting on the UN's International Maritime Organization

    China knows how to put the kibosh [] on that sort of thing.

    following the decision by the US government last week to impose a strict 230-mile buffer zone along the entire US coast

    Countdown to WTO injunction on the US government's new 'anti-competitive' shipping regulations:


    Western manufacturers and workers can't compete with unregulated totalitarian regimes and third-world workers that willingly tolerate "crazy bad" [] contamination. When you choose to indulge yet more environmental regulation please consider what might be done to prevent your noble intentions from simply evacuating more industry out of the West. International NIMBYism isn't morally admirable.

  • Stop Buying Crap! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by lazarus ( 2879 ) on Tuesday November 23, 2010 @06:01PM (#34323892) Homepage Journal
    Honestly, how much of our current problems would go away if we just stopped buying the cheapest crap we can find? Trade imbalances? Global pollution? Landfill? We really have to get away from the whole "I want it right now, and I want it cheap, and I don't care how crappy it is if it just makes me happy for a few minutes." Here is an idea: Do some research. Buy a quality product that will last you the rest of your life instead of one you have to throw away next week. And if you can't afford it right now? Save up until you have the money for it. Trust me. You'll appreciate it more.
    • Re:Stop Buying Crap! (Score:4, Interesting)

      by AnonymousClown ( 1788472 ) on Tuesday November 23, 2010 @06:13PM (#34324080)

      . Buy a quality product that will last you the rest of your life ...

      Easier said than done. Aside from things that are designed not to last, things wear out - regardless of their quality.

      Also, how can you really tell? Consumer Reports doesn't do studies on how long things last on most of their reviews and even then, it's only for the first few years, like with appliances. And the "you get what you pay for" line is not true.

      I just consume less overall.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by whois ( 27479 )

      You don't even have to stop buying crap. We just need to buying/selling crap at what it really costs to ship it. My sister got some wooden blocks for her 1 year old to play with, they were made in France.

      Painted blocks could be made anywhere, they don't have to be shipped across the world, packaged in America and sold here.

      Aside from the pollutants, container ships burn 217 tons of fuel per day (source []). Lets assume that this could be con

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by h4rr4r ( 612664 )

        It cannot be burned in cars. That stuff is bunker oil, the cheapest nastiest fuel you can get out of oil.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by HockeyPuck ( 141947 )


      My iPAD was made in China...

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Trogre ( 513942 )

      This. It's very tempting to just buy whatever is on special, but one should always factor in how long the product is expected to last.

      And, buy local where possible. If you stop buying stuff made in China, those ships will have less need to cross the oceans in the first place. And, of course you'll be supporting your local economy.

      The above paragraph doesn't apply if you live in China :)

  • by EnglishTim ( 9662 ) on Tuesday November 23, 2010 @06:01PM (#34323894)

    It doesn't really tell the whole story. The way the story's worded, you'd think that car emissions are a drop in the ocean (ha ha ha) compared to cargo ship emissions, but that's only true for a certain range of pollutants, and it's certainly not remotely true for carbon emissions.

    • by PPalmgren ( 1009823 ) on Tuesday November 23, 2010 @06:29PM (#34324292)

      Those are the heavy particles like sulfur emissions, which are controlled close to the coast. The ships switch fuel when they are like 50 miles from a port. I think the logic is that these heavy emissions actually sink into the ocean in international waters at diffuse levels not harmful enough to do damage (also that it would significantly increase the cost of all overseas goods).

      Something of note is that those ships are the single most efficient way to move massive amounts of cargo in the world. I can't find the graph, but there's one online somewhere that shows the difference between flight, car, rail, and ship efficiency, and it looks like an exponential growth curve.

      One thing about the industry is that fuel costs are the single highest expense (even over the $100m/piece containerships), so it is in their best interest to be as efficient as possible. The most efficient container line has the lowest cost, and thus the highest profit or lowest rates. As long as regulations are in place to protect people from known harmful practices (like the fuel change in national waters), I don't think any more is necessary.

      • by SuperBanana ( 662181 ) on Tuesday November 23, 2010 @11:44PM (#34327090)

        I think the logic is that these heavy emissions actually sink into the ocean in international waters at diffuse levels not harmful enough to do damage (also that it would significantly increase the cost of all overseas goods).

        I think the logic is that in international waters you don't answer to anyone, and you can burn the cheapest fuel your engine will tolerate.

  • by YesIAmAScript ( 886271 ) on Tuesday November 23, 2010 @06:05PM (#34323954)

    Like acid-rain forming sulfur dioxide.

    This is fixable, you already are not allowed to burn bunker fuel in the "Diesel death zone" near LA and San Diego. And CARB has plans to extend the restrictions further.

  • by Saishuuheiki ( 1657565 ) on Tuesday November 23, 2010 @06:06PM (#34323986)

    Saying that one ship pollutes as much as 50million cars is misleading. To be completely accurate, you must say one ship produces as much sulfer-pollution as 50million cars.

    Now I have no doubt that this is still quite bad, but this doesn't mean that it has 50million times as much carbon emissions as cars. A quick google search shows that this can cause breathing problems and acid rain (both very bad) it doesn't seem to be a global warming problem. When you blindly say it pollutes 50million times as much of something cars now pollute very little of, it makes good headlines but it's bad science.

    • by RobVB ( 1566105 ) on Tuesday November 23, 2010 @06:39PM (#34324442)

      Exactly. The "50 million times more" thing is about sulfur oxides emissions, and honestly this number doesn't seem extraordinary to me. Diesel oil and gasoline have virtually no sulfur in them, while the Heavy Fuel Oil (HFO) that powers most ships is about 2% sulfur.

      HFO is what's left when all the "good stuff" is extracted from crude oil. This "good stuff" is mostly shorter hydrocarbons such as methane, ethane, propane and butane (gases with 1 to 4 carbon atoms in them), gasoline (roughly 5 to 7 carbon atoms) and diesel oil (8 to maximum 21 carbon atoms).

      What's left is an incredibly dirty, viscous, and nearly useless goo (asphalt is one other use, there aren't a whole lot). It still has a high energy density which makes it a decent fuel, but it's so viscous (because it consists mostly of very long hydrocarbon molecules) that you have to heat it up to around 80 degrees centigrade (176F) to even pump it into an engine. It also has high amounts of pollutants, because all the "clean" stuff has been taken out and you're left with all the dirty stuff. It is technically possible to remove most of the sulfur from this goo, but that means refineries would end up with giant piles of sulfur that nobody wants, and they'd have to dispose of it somehow. That's a cost refineries aren't willing to pay, so they just leave it all in to be burned up.

      Legislation is being made to reduce HFO use in some heavy traffic areas (such as the North Sea in Europe), forcing ships to switch to clean diesel fuel in those areas. Of course, shipowners are against this because diesel is about 3 times as expensive as HFO. If all the ships in the busiest sea in the world suddenly start burning diesel fuel, you can expect the price to go up for everyone. Which is why we keep on burning the bad stuff.

  • by Quila ( 201335 ) on Tuesday November 23, 2010 @06:10PM (#34324050)

    "A car driven 9,000 miles a year emits 3.5 ounces of sulfur oxides--while the engine in a large cargo ship produces 5,500 tons."

    But that car will haul maybe a tenth of a ton for that small number of miles, while the ship is expected to haul a hundred thousand tons "24hrs a day for about 280 days a year." You would think it might produce more pollutants.

    The engine in the biggest ones is also far more fuel efficient than any gas or diesel car, exceeding 50% thermal efficiency. We like fuel efficiency, right? Yet they complain.

    • by RobVB ( 1566105 ) on Tuesday November 23, 2010 @06:44PM (#34324528)

      I'll quote some math I did about a year ago in this post [].

      While the amounts of HFO burned by, say, the Emma Maersk [] are enormous (about 300 metric tonnes per day at full operation), this is almost nothing when compared to trucks. Assuming 300mt/day at a cruise speed of 25 knots (over 45km/h), that equates to roughly 30 tonnes per 100 km. A semi-trailer truck pulling two TEU containers [] runs at around 30 liter per 100 km (that's around 8 mpg). This means the Emma Maersk, carrying 14000 TEU, uses 1000 times as much fuel as a truck carrying 2 TEU, which makes this ship about 7 times as fuel efficient as trucks.

  • economics (Score:4, Insightful)

    by confused one ( 671304 ) on Tuesday November 23, 2010 @06:14PM (#34324088)
    It's a question of economics. They're built to operate as cheaply as possible. That includes fuel efficiency. So, I'd expect the engines to operate fairly efficiently, in order to minimize the fuel cost; however, that does not mean they minimize pollution. In addition, these ships often use the cheaper heavy fuels, like No. 6 fuel oil, which tend to be higher in sulfur and other contaminants. Until it's cheaper to operate the ship on something else, this will not change.
  • Let's do the math! (Score:3, Informative)

    by gnasher719 ( 869701 ) on Tuesday November 23, 2010 @09:46PM (#34326230)
    According to the article, one very large cargo ship produces as much pollution as 50 million cars driving 9,000 miles per year. So let's do the maths.

    CO2 emissions of 125 gram per kilometer are considered to be very good for a car - in the UK, that level of CO2 emission means your car tax is dramatically reduced. 125 gram per kilometer equals 200 grams per mile, or 1.8 tons per 9,000 miles. A very large cargo ship supposedly produces the same pollution per year as 50 million cars. That would be 50 million times 1.8 tons or 90 million tons. That would be 250,000 tons of CO2 emissions per day, assuming the vessel is in operation 360 days per year. Excuse me, but this number is nonsense.

    On the other hand, a car typically transports maybe 100 kg on average (usually one, sometimes two passengers). One container = 24,000 kg, that is say the same as 240 cars. Large, but not extremely large, container ships carry 7,000 containers, that is the same freight transported as 1.7 million cars. A container ship can move at 20 knots, that would be 500 miles per day. Obviously it is not moving 360 days per year, 24 hours per day, but it should be more than 90,000 miles, ten times as much as the car in the calculation. So the freight transported is about the same as 17 million cars.

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