Initial sampling by one respected fuel testing company suggests that very low sulphur fuel oils may be more compatible than many had feared
For all the industry worries over the instability of very low sulphur fuel oils (VLSFO), only one trial sample tested by Bureau Veritas VeriFuel has been unstable, according to global technical manager Charlotte Røjgaard. It may or may not be an anomaly – Ms Røjgaard is too much of a scientist to speculate – but as she confirmed when presenting her findings to the Sulphur Cap 2020 Conference in Amsterdam, it's the only one she has seen.
As samples have begun to make their way into the lab, Ms Røjgaard said it is interesting to see confirmation that the industry supply chain is preparing, actively working to reduce sulphur in fuels in time for the 2020 regulations.
"Last year we did not really know these fuels, but now we see them coming into the labs," she said.
Out of the many her lab has received, she chose a few at random for her tests.
"These are what we refer to as trial samples. That means we get them from some of our clients who’ve been in contact with their suppliers and asked them for a sample of their VLSFO. They then send it to us and ask us to test it to ISO 8217," she said.
"Of all the samples we’ve tested, we had one that was unstable. Just one. ... You see the [instability] in the TSA and TSP test results," she said.
“There is a risk of experiencing compatibility issues today and there will be a risk of compatibility issues after 2020”
"The customer went back to their supplier and asked, ‘Why did you send me a sample that’s unstable when we want to evaluate your product?’ The supplier came back and said, ‘Well, we did not send you an unstable sample’ and shared their test results, which showed that the two were not the same fuels. The finger print parameters (eg density and viscosity) were different to what we have here."
"I cannot say what went wrong there," Ms Røjgaard said. "I like to bring it in because we have all these discussions about stability in the industry. This is the only one that we’ve seen."
So, too, went her compatibility tests.
All blends made between the commercially (almost) compliant samples across all blend ranges were stable. Blending the trial samples with some already commercially available fuels showed that one of the commercially available fuels blended poorly with the trial samples while the rest "actually blended quite well across the range," she said.
"Is that just an anomaly? Well, I’m not sure," Ms Røjgaard added.
"If I go into the lab and pick 10 samples at random and make a similar study in compatibility where I just mix these samples across the board, I will also find some [blends] that are not compatible. So, to me this indicates a similar picture that we’ve seen. And it stands against the consideration that we’ll have more compatibility issues – potential compatibility issues, after 2020," she said.
The tests were part of an examination being conducted in partnership with European fuels research body Concawe. The results will feed back into ISO discussions on a publicly available standard on very low sulphur fuel oils that is due to be published this year.
"What I’ve seen from the study so far is that it’s not too different from what we experience today,” Ms Røjgaard concluded. “There is a risk of experiencing compatibility issues today and there will be a risk of compatibility issues after 2020."