From Scientific Innovation to Policy Enforcement

From Scientific Innovation to Policy Enforcement

A world leading air sensing technology with Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) for high Sulphur fuel screening and ship emission measurement developed by HKUST Institute for the Environment (HKUST-IENV) provides advanced solution for high Sulphur fuel screening for ship emission measurement in Hong Kong.

Background: New regulations in PRD and Hong Kong waters effective 1 Jan 2019

Navigation has been the biggest source of air pollution in Hong Kong, contributing 49% of SO2, 37% of NOx, 38% of PM10 and 44% of PM2.5 according to Environmental Protection Department’s (EPD) 2016 Emission Inventory. With the increasingly stringent air quality objectives, control of local emission sources is becoming more important in order to improve air quality and to protect public health.

As a result, new regulations have been implemented from 1 Jan 2019 to control ship emissions in the Domestic Emission Control Areas (DECA) in PRD waters [1] as well as within the Hong Kong waters [2]. In Hong Kong, ocean-going vessels (OGVs) that are using heavy fuel oil (with an average Sulphur content of 2.6%) are now required to switch to compliant fuel (equivalent to cleaner fuel with Sulphur content less than 0.5%) before entering Hong Kong waters.

Previous enforcement methods in Hong Kong and around the world mostly relied on examining vessels’ fuel-use log-book, visual inspections on smoke opacities, or offline fuel sample analysis. To effectively enforce the regulations calls for a state-of-the-art innovation to generate real-time and reliable data to efficiently screen non-compliant ships.

Fast screening solution to increase enforcement efficiency

Facilitated by cloud-based real-time data communication and computing, the system is capable to measure the Fuel Sulphur content (FSC) ranging from 0.05 to 5.0% in 2 minutes after scanning the ship plumes in general operation distance of 50-meter away from the vessel.

The current UAV-based sensor system provides speedy, real-time and accurate screening solution for fuel sulfur content compliance screening which is less labor-intensive with significant improvement of enforcement efficiency.

[1] Implementation Scheme of the Domestic Emission Control Areas for Atmospheric Pollution from Vessels (30 Nov 2018)

[2] Vessels required to use compliant fuel within Hong Kong waters from today (1 Jan 2019)


Given the marine emissions control regulation came effective from 1 January 2019, drone-mounted sensors are a low cost and efficient way to identify if the vessel is using non-compliant fuel. Impacts on the drones technology included:

  1. Given the marine emissions control regulation came effective from 1 January 2019, the drone-mounted sensor innovation is a low-cost but efficient solution to facilitate fast-screening of non-compliant ships, which will markedly improve enforcement efficiency and generate significant impact public health in Hong Kong.
  2. While the Mainland China has also announced new control requirements for emission control requirements for SOx, PM and NOx on 1 January 2019 (Implementation Scheme of the Domestic Emission Control Areas for Atmospheric Pollution from Vessels) to regulate emissions from ships navigating, berthing and operating in the DECAs, the HKUST-IENV drone-mounted sensor innovation has a great potential to be adopted in a regional scale, in which ship emissions contributing to the same airshed could also be regulated effectively.
  3. Apart from ship emissions, the drone-mounted sensors could be applied in monitoring other important air pollution sources such as power plants or factory chimneys.​​​​​


Press Conference - 30 Jan 2019