Finnish marine systems company Wartsila said it has received a huge response to its plan to capture carbon from ship exhausts.

This comes after the technology company said in March that it was working on a way to directly tackle CO2 emissions in the future.

Emissions would be captured at the point of exhaust, potentially linked to scrubbers, the company said.

"We have been totally overwhelmed, with customers saying 'yes please'," marine systems president Tamara de Gruyter told TradeWinds.

"If we'd had a product, we would have had an even better Q1!"

De Gruyter said Wartsila sees a need for carbon capture, and the purpose of announcing its plans was to spur talks with customers.

Time to brainstorm

The company wants to "brainstorm" ideas about what such a system could look like, she added.

De Gruyter said there would need to be some pre-treatment of exhaust gases before the carbon could be removed.

"It's the next big thing, but it's not something you'll do in the next few months," the president said.

"It was nice to see this kind of positive reaction from the market. Customers even asked, can I co-invest, or said, can we help you?"

Fuel price differentials have led to a bounce-back in interest in scrubbers. Photo: Wartsila

Wartsila has conducted extensive research and development to explore how capture could work, building on knowledge gained from reducing sulphur output.

To further accelerate this process, the company is installing a 1-MW pilot plant at its test facility in Moss, Norway, allowing a range of scenarios and conditions to be tested.

Clamour for scrubbers

Wartsila said the price differential between high and low-sulphur fuels rose above $100 per tonne in early January and remained at that level during the first quarter, following the increase in crude oil prices.

But the scrubber retrofit market is still characterised by a high degree of uncertainty, mostly due to the limited visibility on future fuel price spreads, the company added.

De Gruyter said the fuel spread is "not stable for long enough" to restart retrofit orders.

"But with this big boom in new containership ordering, a large part of that — more than half — has scrubbers," she said.

"So actually what we see is we get a lot of orders for newbuild vessels, and of course we have a huge pipeline. At this moment, it's almost a challenge how to get the quotes out.

"There is still the opportunity of retrofitting, but that's a bit further out."

From hardware to software

Sean Fernback, president of Wartsila's voyage division, said the group is expecting an uptick in service retrofits coming into the third quarter.

"We are pretty confident things will stat to move for automation and navigation systems," he added.

Fernback revealed Wartsila had encountered problems getting on board ships during the pandemic to fit the hardware for its Fleet Operations Solution platform, leaving it with a backlog of 194 vessels.

"It was very frustrating, but we had a quick flip around of what we could do and said why don't we get around the hardware?" Fernback said.

The company is now installing a browser-based version, allowing officers to download what they need.