Marseille, France Is Keeping Pollution Down With Sulfer Detecting Drones

The ports of Marseille, France are conducting a pilot project using specialized drones to detect and analyze the sulfur content of the exhaust fumes of ships in the harbor. These international vessels have often been denounced as contributing to air pollution in the city as they do not comply with local emissions standards.

The ATLAS 4 “sniffing” drone is manufactured by Altus LSA,  has a vertical take-off, and a range of several miles. It is equipped with various equipment, such as optical and thermal cameras, and sensors for measuring emissions. The drone positions itself in the plume of a ships’ exhaust and analyzes the sulfur content using electrochemical sensors. The sulfur content of the fuel used – along with video recordings and the drones’ flight path – are transferred in near real-time to the  European Maritime Safety Agency’s (EMSA) remotely piloted aircraft data center. 

Current local environmental regulations state that the sulfur level must be less than 0.1% at quay and 0.5% during navigation. These regulations will be reinforced in the Mediterranean by the year 2025 with the establishment of the “SECA MED” emission control area. This control area will require all ships to use fuel whose sulfur content does not exceed 0.1% by mass – which would be five times less polluting than the international standard in non-SECA zones.

EMSA states that while emissions monitoring will be the primary task of the operation, in future the drones may also be used for search and rescue, fisheries control, and marine pollution monitoring.

This is the first time that the special device has been deployed locally. The experiment will take place until 23 December 2022, under the guidance of the French Secretariat for the Sea. The latter asked the European Maritime Safety Agency to provide assistance with the remotely piloted aircraft surveillance service.

The control of harmful emissions is expanding from urban areas into maritime traffic. The drone will measure sulfur emissions from ships to verify compliance with the regulations governing the sulfur content of marine fuels. These rules provide that the sulfur level must be less than 0.1% at quay and 0.5% during navigation.