Experts address fuel quality trends and issues at IBIA/UK Chamber of Shipping forum

Experts address fuel quality trends and issues at IBIA/UK Chamber of Shipping forum

Delegates at the London-based forum entitled “2020: Getting down to Business” gained valuable insights into recent fuel quality trends, ISO 8217 changes, and clues of what may lie ahead as the market gears up to deal with a regulatory change that will have a huge impact on the products offered to keep ships moving.

The forum, jointly organised by IBIA and the UK Chamber of Shipping, heard from current IBIA board member Michael Green Global Technical Manager, Intertek ShipCare, recent IBIA board member John Stirling, Quality Manager, World Fuel Services, and Naeem Javaid, Global Operations Manager FOBAS, Lloyd’s Register EMEA about what fuel test results and experience with low sulphur fuels can tell us, the latest ISO 8217 revision and what’s next on the agenda, and the implications for ship operators and suppliers as we look ahead to 2020.

Green looked at the history of how shifts in sulphur regulations have impacted fuel quality, in particular the changes in emission control area sulphur limits. He associated a spike in off-spec for fuels tested by his company in the third quarter of 2010 with the implementation of the 1.00% sulphur limit in all ECAs as of 1 July 2010. The change in the sulphur limit saw a wider range of cutter stocks being used, and the company saw an increase in the level of cat fines in heavy fuel oils (HFOs), more issues with stability and increased frequency of instances of chemical contamination. Then, in 2015, there was an improvement in HFO fuel quality because the new ECA limit was met mainly with distillates, removing the 1.00% sulphur blends from the market.

Michael Green speaking at the IBIA & UK Chamber of Shipping forum

Green said the increased demand for distillate product in 2015 could introduce some issues because treatment processes to remove sulphur from distillate fuels can have a detrimental effect on the final fuel quality. It can lead to fuels that have poor lubricity, reduced oxidation stability, poor combustion characteristics, possible presence of fatty acid methyl ester(s) (FAME) and reduced low flash point. Testing undertaken by Intertek indicate that these problems didn’t materialise to the extent that was anticipated.

As for the ultra-low sulphur fuel oils (ULSFOs) coming into the market to meet demand for ECA-compliant fuels, Green said they appear to be mostly of good quality, with the main concerns being cold flow, which had been largely manageable. Green said compatibility with other fuels had not been an issue, but added that this may be due to those operators taking it onboard being very alert to potential issues and therefore extra careful handling onboard.

Javaid from FOBAS did, however, indicated that its customers had reported some problems with ULSFOs, including sludging, filter blockages and compatibility issues. He said there was quite a big variety in ULSFO quality variance with regards to viscosity and cold flow properties, with more instances of fuels having a paraffinic base and unusual blend components.

Stirling from WFS said about 25 different types of ULSFOs had been tested so far, and while he said compatibility may be an issue, this is nothing new. It is the same as with any fuel taken onboard today, compatibility must always be checked, he noted.

ULSFOs offered as an alternative to MGO for ECA compliance have received a lot of attention relative to their market share. According to FOBAS test data, DMA-grade product (clean and bright MGO) accounted for 88% of all ECA-compliant fuel samples tested, or approximately 75% of the market. He said RMD 80 accounted for 10 % of the samples (close to 22% of the market), with DMB, RME 180 and “others” accounted for just 2 % samples tested (a bit more than 3% of the total market).

ULSFOs and the previous 1.00% sulphur fuel oil blends are interesting because they may give a clue to what we can expect in 2020, when a range of very low sulphur fuel oil (VLSFO) blends meeting the 0.50% sulphur limit are likely to be introduced.

“We expect more RMD 80” to meet the 0.50% sulphur limit, said Javaid.

Stirling advised ship operators to learn from the ULSFO 0.10% experience prior to 2020, suggesting those that haven’t trialled it already, should get some and get used to it.

Both Stirling and Javaid ran through some of the key changes to the 2017 revision of the ISO 8217 standard, with both wondering when it will become widely accepted in the market as the 2005 revision remains the most widely used edition today. Stirling said 62% of WFS deliveries were supplied to the ISO 8217: 2005 standard in 2016, but that take-up of the ISO 8217 revisions from 2010/12 has been increasing every year.

Javaid highlighted that the 2017 revision is paving the way for distillate fuels with up to 7% FAME and blends of synthetic and renewables hydrocarbon fuels. FAME has some specific handling requirements that operators need to be aware of, such as reduced oxidation/thermal stability meaning it should not be stored for more than 6 months, a propensity to attract water which can lead to microbial development, poor cold flow properties and higher solvency characteristic than current distillate grades.

Javaid said allowing 7% FAME in marine distillates (ISO 8217:2017 has added a new Distillate FAME, or DF distillate table) means allowing road fuels into marine fuel, which in turn runs the risk of introducing more fuels with flash point falling below the minimum 60C limit for marine fuels.

The next revision of ISO 8217 will focus on the 2020 scenario, using experiences gained from ULSFOs to get to grips with the specific issues associated with such fuels. Stirling, who is a member of the committee working on revisions of ISO 8217, said it was unlikely that the next revision would be in place prior to 2020, and that 2021 was more likely, pointing out that we need to gain experience with new fuel blends before ISO can produce a standard for them.

What seems certain is that the marine fuel market in 2020 will become more complex, which has an impact not just on how fuel management on ships, but also on supply infrastructure. Stirling showed a slide highlighting the many types of fuel grades suppliers may be expected to have segregated storage for, especially if the various grades are not compatible. Separate storage will be required for three different sulphur grades; max 0.10%, max 0.50% and high sulphur fuel oil for ships equipped with scrubbers. Some fuels will require storage in heated tanks, others will not. Separate storage will also be required for distillates with up to 7% FAME and those without. Add to this the emerging markets for LNG, and maybe methanol and other fuels.

In conclusion: the quality of fuels will likely undergo further changes as a result of the 0.50% sulphur limit in 2020, and it will be challenging for all parties to choose how to respond. For ship operators, the challenge lies in choosing one or more routes to compliance as there is no ‘one size fits all’ option. For suppliers, the main challenge will be trying to anticipate what the market wants and make the right infrastructure investments to meet demand.

Report by Unni Einemo

Share this: