At a recent Riviera Maritime Media webinar on two-stroke engines and very low-sulphur fuel oil, panellists discussed the challenges facing the industry from the transition towards low and zero sulphur marine fuels
An expert panel convened for a Riviera Maritime Media webinar recently to discuss the industry’s move towards environmentally friendly marine fuel.
Attendees heard reports from industry experts Veritas Petroleum Services’ (VPS) Steve Bee, Shell Marine Products’ John Schakel, Lloyd’s Register’s Tim Wilson and MAN Energy Solutions two-stroke engine specialist Kjeld Aabo on how the industry was adapting to IMO’s rules on carrying and burning lower sulphur fuels.
Mr Bee spoke about VPS’ experience with testing VLSFO quality in the early months of 2020. He said that the company tested nearly 5,000 fuel samples of VLSFO before the inception of the sulphur cap and noted that the rapid uptake of the fuels has slowed somewhat due to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, but that the market share of VLSFO continues to rise. In the months preceding the inception of IMO 2020, there were concerns over how the industry would adapt. For operators, the availability of bunkering options for VLSFOs was a primary concern. High sulphur fuel oil (HSFO) demand was expected to decrease as the new regulations forced a shift towards cleaner alternatives.
Mr Bee said there were several sludging issues with VLSFOs that VPS tested, either due to asphaltene and other residual components or waxing, due to cold-flow issues from the paraffinic content of the fuels, or both. VPS noted a “huge variation in the densities” of VLSFOs which ranged from 800 to 1000 centipoise (cps), depending on the blends used.
Because of the degree of variation, Mr Bee said operators should be more aware than ever of the fuel they are buying and ensure those fuels possess a "certificate of quality".
Mr Bee said that in March 2020, VPS collected data on flashpoints of fuel coming out of the bunkering port of Houston, Texas, in the US. While the average total sediment potential (TSP) value was on-spec for this period, he said there have been unusually high peaks observed in Houston, Panama, Singapore, Antwerp and Hong Kong.
In January 2020, tests run by Fobas in Singapore found sediment levels in VLSFO blends that were not compliant with the new IMO regulations.
Mr Bee said that with regard to storage, VLSFOs are less stable than most traditional marine fuels and require close fuel monitoring.
He highlighted fuel and lube management practices as key and stated that the industry is still on a learning curve when it comes to understanding the practices the fuel changeover requires. However, he said that VLSFO adoption and compliance has risen.
In Q1 2020, 63% of VPS’ samples were VLSFOs and just 14% were HFOs. VPS’ data on compliance indicated that the average level of sulphur in VLSFOs is compliant with the IMO regulations in all regions. VLSFO non-compliance had dropped to 2.3% of all samples tested by the end of Q1. The corresponding figures at the end of 2019 showed an 8% non-compliance rate.
These findings are echoed by at least one major port authority’s compliance data for Q1 2020. Only 3% of the tested samples exceeded the off-spec parameter, according to the figures. While cat fines in VLSFO are higher than in HFOs, Mr Bee said cat fines are improving in all bunkering regions and that by the end of Q1 only 0.3% of tested samples were higher than 60ppm.
Mr Schakel said OEMs recommended cylinder condition monitoring which is now “more important than ever” and stressed the importance of knowing and tracking the engine’s maintenance history. Cylinder condition monitoring can be performed by drain oil analysis and by monitoring the condition of the piston rings, by way of visual/pictorial reports, to record trends so corrective action can be taken.
He said that it was important to alternate between high and low BN cylinder oil to ensure the engine remains cleaner.
Mr Wilson identified four key areas in dealing with VLSFOs: the diversity of the fuel formulations; temperature control and fuel heating and cooling; compatibility and forward bunker planning; and lube oil management.
Mr Wilson used Lloyds Register (LR) data to show the immense variation in the viscosity of VLSFOs past temperatures of 50°C and the differential of “as much as 110°C between one bunker to another”. In the current market with more ships going into layup, Mr Wilson advised operators to “load it – use it” when it came to fuel. For ships going into layup, he recommended putting them in a monitoring programme, whereby there is a "set point for taking a sample of the condition of the fuel on a monthly basis” to monitor for changes.
He highlighted key areas for more proactive fuel management, including forward bunker planning, selection of supplier, knowledge of a fuel before loading, temperature control, compliance risk, minimising onboard storage time and monitoring fuel system and engine performance.
Finally, Mr Wilson noted that ISO 8217:2017 – the regulation that deals with marine fuels – is undergoing a process of revision and he expects that the revised document will be ready in 2023.
Mr Aabo said one of the key issues now is "how to be prepared, how to treat the fuel before [it gets to] the engine itself".
He said: "This is not heavy fuel oil. We are now talking about very low sulphur fuel oil," and he reiterated Mr Wilson’s point about fuel management to ensure the right temperature and viscosity were maintained.
Mr Aabo also noted there were several cases of scuffing between the end of the old regulatory regime and the inception of IMO 2020. Mr Aabo said that MAN Energy Solutions is trying to understand the causes for all the cases identified. In several instances, scuffing and high wear came about due to cat fines and in particular the lack of cermet-coated piston rings. “Cermet-coating is important as it ensures better wear control in the liner,” he said.
The webinar saw attendees answer polls covering their experiences with fuel oil availability, lubricants and inspections; 15% of respondents said they had experienced availability issues with 0.5% sulphur fuels. At 37.5%, more than one in three owners or operators have had port state control inspectors come on board to check sulphur cap compliance. Just over 17% reported issues in obtaining 40BN lubricants.
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