CO₂llecting potential: from shipping gas to greenhouse growth

Rotterdam’s Value Maritime has hit upon what might be seen as a ‘Eureka moment’ for shipping. The start-up has launched a system that not only cleans vessel exhaust emissions and captures CO₂, but also creates a sought-after product for land-based customers. The benefits go way beyond regulatory compliance, as Christiaan Nijst, company Co-Founder and inventor of the unique Filtree System, explains.

Christiaan Nijst is a genius. The 40-year-old Dutch engineer, Co-Founder and Director of Value Maritime, squirms uncomfortably in his chair when he hears this, but the evidence speaks for itself.

A former process specialist for Shell, the MIT alumnus won the 2022 Nor-Shipping Young Entrepreneur Award, a global prize for ‘next generation’ industry talent, for an innovation he’s spent the last five years taking from the drawing board to commercial reality.

It’s called the Filtree System and, at the time of writing, is installed on 17 vessels, with production now scaling up from one unit every two weeks to the goal of one a week by next year.

There’s no better person to explain the patented technology, and its benefits, than Nijst himself.

Christiaan Nijst Co-Founder/Director Value Maritime
Christiaan Nijst Co-Founder/Director Value Maritime

Clean break for heavy fuels

“It’s basically a prefabricated, ‘plug-and-play’ gas cleaning system,” he says. “It’s transported from our factory to the ship on a truck, lifted into place behind the exhaust funnel – there’s no need for dry docking – with a valve from the exhaust connecting directly into the system. When the ship sets sail it then works to filter out sulphur, 99 percent of particulate matter, as well as CO₂ emissions. The filtering means there’s no need for expensive low-sulphur fuel to ensure compliance with the IMO 0.1 percent sulphur cap."

“And all this is done using seawater as the ‘wash water’ – there are no chemicals, as there is in closed-loop scrubbers – which the system then cleans, neutralising the PH value to safeguard against seawater acidification."

“It’s quite simple, very robust and extremely efficient.” 

And that’s not all. The best is yet to come.

Profiting from progress

There’s a wealth of competing technologies tailored to enable shipping’s ongoing voyage to a sustainable horizon. However, despite their efficacy, few can boast a business case like the Filtree System.

As Nijst makes clear, the company has been christened Value Maritime for a reason:  “The great thing about our solution is that the captured CO₂ becomes a product in its own right – we create a value chain.”

Nijst explains that the CO₂ is transferred from the system - dissolved in a liquid at ambient temperatures and pressures - to onboard CO₂ ‘batteries’. These are essentially high absorption gas carriers housed in standard 20-foot containers that sit on the vessel deck. Once fully charged, the batteries are offloaded in ports and onto trucks, with empty storage units hoisted straight back into position. The newly acquired CO₂ is then transported to customers, which at this stage are predominantly greenhouse operators.

“These guys are really hungry for CO₂, so it’s an easy sell,” Nijst notes, “and there’s clear environmental benefits for them as well as the shipowners.”

Plug-and-play: easy installation of the Filtree System, with no need for vessel dry docking
Plug-and-play: easy installation of the Filtree System, with no need for vessel dry docking

Enriching idea

As we (might) all remember from school biology classes, plants need to take in CO₂ as they photosynthesize in the sunlight, so if you have a high concentration of plants in one place, CO₂ enrichment may be required to help them reach their photosynthesis/growth potential. Greenhouses often satisfy their CO₂ needs by burning natural gas, which is both expensive, especially given current energy costs, and adds to the ‘footprint’ of products in an increasingly environmentally sensitive marketplace.

“But if they can access the gas from shipping emissions,” Nijst enthuses, “they benefit from a cost-efficient supply chain that is reducing not only maritime’s impact on the environment, but that of the agricultural industry too.

“It’s a clear win-win, and the Filtree System is the facilitator.”

The reason for that ‘genius’ claim should now be a little clearer.

It’s basically a prefabricated, ‘plug and play’ gas cleaning system.

Repeat business

Nijst has grown the company from a pure start-up in 2017, with a prototype funded from personal savings, to a thriving business of 40 staff, boasting customers from the Netherlands, Germany, Norway and Singapore, amongst others, and a modern, modular and highly standardized production process.

Although the CO₂ sales may be simple, he’s candid enough to admit that the maritime market is “somewhat tougher”, largely due to the fact that this is a breakthrough solution that the industry “probably needs some time to get used to”.

“The technology is proven,” he states, “but the concept, the approach to decarbonization and releasing value in this way, is certainly new. At the moment that means that sales are hard, with a typical duration period of about six months from initial enquiry to installation.  “However, when it’s an existing customer that duration falls away to perhaps two weeks. Every one of our customers, without exception, has ordered more units after their initial order.”

He smiles, adding; “I mean, why wouldn’t you?”

Short-sea focus

It’s not a solution for everyone though.

Due to the specifications of the system, engine sizes need to fall within a range of 3 to 15MW, making it ideal for small to midsize vessels such as product tankers, coasters and container feeders (a key customer segment, with the size, storage and removal of the CO₂ batteries fitting perfectly with planned operations).

“Ideally, vessels should also have predictable sailing patterns with voyages between one and ten days,” Nijst adds, explaining that storage of the batteries has to be taken into consideration.

“The batteries have to be offloaded when they’re fully charged, and there’s only so many a customer would want to have onboard,” he says. “There’s a question of cargo efficiency to consider, and no one wants to compromise that, so it’s not as viable when you’re looking at longer, deep sea trades.”

Short-sea focus: short journeys and predictable operations pay off for customers
Short-sea focus: short journeys and predictable operations pay off for customers

New approaches

When it comes to shorter-sea operations, though, Nijst and his team are fighting hard to ensure customers see the sense of installations (for both retrofits and newbuilds) with proactive marketing and sales options that are, very nearly, as innovative as the technology itself.

It’s quite simple, very robust and extremely efficient.

“We want to find ways to help people clear the hurdles to adoption,” he remarks, “and accessing CAPEX is obviously a very big hurdle for many within the industry. That’s why, in addition to straight-out ownership, you can also lease the systems, or enter a fuel saving agreement.”

This latter option is another indication of Value Maritime’s ability to find new ways of approaching problems, as Nijst explains:

“Basically, it means we cover the cost of the unit and the installation – there’s no lump sum upfront at all. Then, the customer simply pays a percentage of the fuel cost saving they make each month from being able to use standard heavy fuel oil (HFO). Which, incidentally, is also better for their engines than using low-sulphur alternatives that impact upon performance and maintenance needs.”

“It’s an easy way to embark on the decarbonization journey with your shipping business. And, with the fuel savings, ease of regulatory compliance now and in the future, and CO₂ value chain, it really does pay!”

Sustainable charge: a CO₂ battery ready for deployment
Sustainable charge: a CO₂ battery ready for deployment

Action today for tomorrow

The effervescent Director mentions numerous other ways one of shipping’s key challenges could be turned into an opportunity; with high CO₂ demand in industries such as food and beverage production, cooling, metal fabrication and even the production of green maritime fuels such as green methanol, where CO₂ is added to hydrogen. Greenhouses, he says, can be just the start.

“The important thing to stress is that we can do this NOW,” Nijst concludes. “Sometimes there’s a tendency in shipping to hang on for ‘silver bullet’ energy solutions that can be adopted wholesale, but we don’t have the time to wait for perfect green fuels. We have to take action today."

“With a solution like the Filtree, emissions can be significantly reduced on existing vessels with existing fuels, while we also support industry on land. It’s plug-and-play green shipping, with added value.”

In other words, a stroke of genius.

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