The ferry will link Marseille and the French island of Corsica

Ferry engines with filters welcome to combat air pollution

The ferry will connect Marseille and the French island of Corsica – Copyright AFP Wojtek RADWANSKI

Julie PACOREL

A French ferry company has launched what it claims is the first vessel to use filters to capture nearly all air pollutants from boat exhaust, drawing cheers from campaigners and local authorities.

La Meridionale, based in the southern French port of Marseille, showed off its innovative ship to the media on Monday.

“This is an unprecedented decision, a first in the world,” company chairman Marc Revershon told reporters aboard a blue and white Piana plying between Marseille and the French island of Corsica.

The company said the filters capture 99 percent of the sulfur oxides emitted by the ferry’s four engines, as well as 99.9 percent of the particulate matter from heavy fuel combustion.

The filters use technology already used in power plants or incinerators, in which sodium bicarbonate is injected into the exhaust gases, causing a chemical reaction with the smallest particles produced during the combustion process.

The pollutants can then be trapped by an industrial air filter that has been around for more than 30 years, the company’s technical director Christophe Segino told reporters.

“We didn’t have to look too far. We didn’t invent anything,” Segino explained. “The challenge for us was to make it suitable for marine conditions.”

The ferry group has an agreement with chemical supplier Solvay to dispose of the toxic filter residue for future recycling, Segino said.

Fuel oil, also known as bunker fuel, is one of the cheapest but most polluting transport fuels, resulting in thick plumes of dirty brown smoke from most ships.

It also contains high amounts of sulfur, which can cause breathing problems and acid rain.

– Regulation –

Regulations regarding the amount of sulfur allowed vary, with ultra-clean fuel required in areas such as the North and Baltic Seas in Europe, and around ports in North America.

Marseille, which hosts cruise and container ships as well as ferries, has struggled with increased smog in recent years and the transport sector is thought to be responsible for much of the problem.

“Let’s hope the big polluters follow La Meridionale’s lead,” socialist Marseille mayor Benoît Payan tweeted after attending a company event.

During the summer, he fought boat operators with a petition calling for the dirtiest boats to be banned during periods of peak pollution.

Shipping companies are under pressure from regulators to tighten industry standards to cut greenhouse gas emissions as well as air pollutants, but campaigners want faster action.

La Meridionale “goes a lot further than current regulations require by treating all of its particulate matter,” Damien Pigat of Atmosud, the regional air quality monitoring group, told AFP.

Some shipowners prefer to use what is known as “scrubbing” technology, in which water is sprayed into the exhaust gases, which captures some of the pollutants.

However, environmentalists note that in many cases the water is then dumped into the sea.

Other groups are experimenting with engines that run on cleaner liquefied natural gas (LNG) or methanol, and are developing electric and sailing ships.

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