With ship operators mandated to use very low sulphur fuel oil (VLSFO) to meet emissions requirements since the onset of IMO’s 2020 sulphur cap regulations on 1 January 2020, many have raised questions about the quality and specifications of these fuels
During the ‘Fuel Testing – no easy answers’ webinar, in Riviera’s Marine Fuels Webinar Week, Veritas Petroleum Services group commercial and business development director Steve Bee and Bureau Veritas VeriFuel global technical manager Charlotte Røjgaard tackled common questions around testing to verify fuel compliance against ISO standards and to ensure fuels are free from harmful contaminants and answered in-depth questions covering the proliferation of VLSFO, streamlining testing procedures, differences in variants of international standard ISO 8217, effects of phenols in fuel and whether different laboratories produce conflicting results.
Ultimately, both panellists advised shipowners to be more selective on where they source their fuel and to deepen their understanding of fuel quality standards.
Mr Bee implored owners to gain a better understanding of how to handle marine fuels, especially VLSFO. “Know what fuel you are burning and know its behaviour,” he said. “Buy fuel from reputable suppliers and know its fuel management.”
Mr Bee explained the issues that come from handling VLSFO and its chemical components, such as aromatics, paraffins and trace contaminants such as phenols. “The issues with some chemical components are they can block fuel pumps and injectors, preventing the fuel from getting to the combustion chamber,” he said.
He explained how all marine fuels have trace levels of contaminants without any operational issues. Therefore, screening should be carried out to ensure fuels meet ISO 8217 standards. “But if there is a spike or a sizeable change, then the question is: should we do more analysis?” asked Mr Bee.
Ms Røjgaard said there were significant variants in viscosity and more paraffins in VLSFO compared with conventional heavy fuel oil. “Having waxes makes this an excellent fuel for marine,” she said.
“Its combustion is excellent, and viscosity is lower in new fuels. There are no more or less contaminants and its emissions depend on the engine technology and operation,” said Ms Røjgaard. She added there were no flash point issues with VLSFO and no issues from phenol content.
Ms Røjgaard said the 2017 variant of the ISO 8217 standard would cover VLSFO, but work had started on a revision. “It takes three years to create a revision to the standard, but VLSFO should be supplied to the 2017 specifications,” she said.
Ms Røjgaard called on the shipping industry to test fuels and train seafarers to handle fuels correctly. “It is important to know what you are dealing with and how to handle it,” she concluded.
When asked which ISO 8217 revision standard they currently test their fuel against, 51% of attendees said the 2010/2012 version, 41% said the 2017 revision and 8% said 2005.
The audience were questioned on their main engine fuel of choice was, to which 73% replied VLSFO and 17% marine gasoil, while 5% said high sulphur fuel oil and another 5% ultra low sulphur fuel oil.
In a third poll, attendees were asked to forecast when business activity will return to pre-Covid-19 levels, with 39% saying by the end of Q1 2021, another 37% said mid-2021, 20% said by the end of this year and just 4% by the beginning of Q4 2020.
In two testing-specific polls, attendees were asked when should they perform gas chromatography mass spectrometry (GCMS) testing of a fuel. Around 53% said when their sample is on-spec but is causing operational difficulties and 36% said they would test fuel in this way routinely. Only 5% said they would only request GCMS testing if the fuel sample was off-spec and 4% said they would never order GCMS testing.
In the fifth and final poll, attendees were asked what their number one priority would be in a claims situation. Some 37% said that the third-party lab has ISO 17025 accreditation on the spec and 23% said the third-party lab has a general ISO 17025 accreditation. About 18% of the audience said the lab should use the same test methods, another 18% said it was the reputation, name or brand of the third-party laboratory and 4% said the lab accepted witnesses for their testing.
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Webinar panellists were Bureau Veritas VeriFuel global technical manager Charlotte Røjgaard (left) and Veritas Petroleum Services’ group commercial and business development director Steve Bee (right)