Setting standards: What next for ISO 8217?

Setting standards: What next for ISO 8217?

Monique Vermeire chairs the committee in charge of reviewing the ISO 8217 marine fuel standard. In light of the changes associated with IMO 2020, that is a huge task. IBIA’s Unni Einemo had the opportunity to ask her about it.*

As the convener of ISO TC28/SC4/WG6, Monique Vermeire has a hugely important and difficult role. She oversees input from a large and varied group of technical experts that review and draft revisions to ISO 8217, and its close relative ISO 8216. This process has always been challenging, and has become even more so with the entry into force of the 0.50% sulphur limit. The implications of this for marine fuel quality has seen pressure like never before on ISO to update the standard to reflect the quality changes associated with the shift from predominantly high sulphur fuel oil (HSFO) to fuel oils meeting the 0.50% sulphur limit, known as very low sulphur fuel oil (VLSFO).

UE: Already in 2017, the year the 6th edition of ISO 8217 was published, IMO requested ISO to “keep consistency between the ISO standard and implementation of the 0.50% sulphur limit”. It seems many people, including delegates to the IMO’s Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC) had a hard time understanding why we could not get a revised ISO 8217 standard before the 0.50% sulphur limit took effect. Could you explain why it wasn’t possible?

MV: The 6th edition of ISO 8217 was indeed published in March 2017. ISO has standardised procedures for revision and development of (new) standards. Initiating a revision of a standard involves the creation of a new work item proposal to be submitted to the technical committee to which the working group belongs, for voting which typically takes two months.

This does not mean that the WG sits and waits until the result of the voting is known; usually it starts the discussions already prior to the outcome of the voting. But even then, a typical revision of a standard takes three years which would have resulted in the revised standard only being available by mid-2020  at the earliest which would certainly have been too late as the new regulation entered into force 1 January 2020 requiring vessels to have the 0.50% sulphur fuels onboard prior to that date, unless the vessel had a scrubber.

Additionally, a revision of the standard is typically retrospective which means that we take into consideration the experiences /concerns from the industry on existing fuels on the market.  In 2017, marine fuel with 0.50% S was barely available as refiners, fuel suppliers etc were still assessing how to produce these fuels and no information on what typical characteristics could be was available, only a rough idea on potential blending components and potential consequences therefrom. Because of these main factors, it was chosen to develop a Publicly Available Specification (PAS), which involves less stages in the development process.

UE:  Although it was premature to publish a new edition of ISO 8217, ISO developed a PAS (PAS 23263) in response to concerns about IMO 2020. How was it received? Do you think it met market expectations?

MV: Already prior to the publication of the PAS, it was clarified that all the specifications within ISO 8217 would apply to the 0.50% S max. fuels and that the VLSFOs could be ordered in the same way as HSFOs. This already took away a concern and was positively received by the industry. It was also stated in the PAS document itself.  The potential VLSFO quality aspects that would eventually require more attention, both from a manufacturing and operational aspect, have been studied/addressed in the PAS or in documents referenced in the PAS. As such, the PAS is considered a valuable document containing relevant information on the new fuels.

The terminology ‘Publicly Available Specification’ may have created the expectation that this document would be available for free and that it would contain a table with specifications as in ISO 8217.  So, some may have been disappointed that this was not to be the case!

UE: Some suppliers now put only “VLSFO” on their BDN instead of describing the product with an ISO 8217 grade – what do you think about that? Is there any reason why they can’t put an ISO 8217 grade on the BDN?

MV: VLSFO is the term typically used in the industry referring to the fuel having a sulphur content of 0.50% max. IMO requires the product name to be included on the BDN and the 2019 IMO guidelines for consistent implementation of the 0.50% S limit under MARPOL Annex VI (RESOLUTION MEPC.320(74)) also defines VLSFO. I recommend however the ISO 8217 grade of the fuel to be included on the BDN as it refers to other characteristics that might provide useful information for the vessel’s crew on how to store, handle and use the product.

UE: We are not even a year into 2020 and we know that VLSFO fuel characteristics vary greatly. Do you see any major trends? Do you expect this variation in VLSFOs to continue?

MV: The working group did an initial review of testing data available up to end of January 2020 which showed that VLSFOs have a lower average density of approximately 940 kg/m3 and that a higher share of the supplied fuels have higher pour point, lower micro carbon residue and higher net specific energy.  All indicative for the VLSFOs being more paraffinic in nature.  Viscosity is the characteristic which varies probably most, but in general there is a trend to lower viscosity being supplied.  Testing agencies are probably best placed to see whether there are any specific trends for different regions/ports.

UE: Do you already have enough VLSFO data and information to help determine what needs to be revised in the next ISO 8217 edition, or do you need longer to see how fuels evolve?

MV: Review of testing data is key for the current revision of the standard and we have experts from all major testing agencies participating in the working group and they have tested thousands of samples so far, so we will have a good basis to start the work from.  Also, as new information/data becomes available during the development of the next edition of the standard, it can be considered as the development track of the standard is three years.

UE: ISO 8216 defines the detailed classification of marine fuels found in ISO 8217 and was last revised in 2017 with the addition of Distillate FAME (DF) grades in Table 1. Can we expect any new grades in the next revision, or a different way of organising the fuels grades into Table 1 (distillate marine) and Table 2 (residual marine) grades?

MV: Categorisation of fuels is certainly included in our preliminary list of topics to be considered.  It is however too premature to speculate on how exactly the fuels will be categorised. With the current edition of the standard for RM type fuels, 11 different grades can be ordered ranging from RMA10 to RMK700.  For the VLSFOs, we see a wider variety in the viscosity within a certain fuel grade being supplied. As such, it is well possible that, because of the lack of a minimum viscosity requirement, a fuel is guaranteed to meet a certain grade e.g. RMG 380, whereas when considering only the viscosity it would maybe be an RMD 80. This may result in different handling of the fuel onboard being required.  Less categories and defined ranges of specification limits may be a potential approach to respond to this.

UE: Stability and compatibility are particular concerns these days and it seems the current test methods are not always able to predict it. Can you tell us anything about how this might be addressed?

MV: Relevant information on stability and compatibility included in ISO/PAS 23263:2019 will be incorporated into the ISO 8217.  Additional information on stability and compatibility testing is also available in other industry documents developed in the running up to 1 January 2020 such as the CIMAC Guideline- Marine fuel handling in connection to stability and compatibility and the Joint industry Guidance – The supply and use of 0.50%-sulphur marine fuel.

UE: Very variable cold flow properties appears to be another key trend. Is there anything on the cards such as new limits/requirements regarding cold flow?

MV: In a response to fuel storage and handling problems experienced with some 0.10% S fuels introduced in 2015, the requirement to report the cloud point and CFPP for some distillate type fuels was included in the ISO 8217:2017 to ensure information of the fuel’s cold flow behaviour was available to the vessel. When introducing new limits into a standard it requires careful evaluation of available test data as the limits shall be set in such a way that they do not impact fuel oil availability. The ability to store and handle a particular fuel depends on the ship’s design and intended voyage. As such one fuel may eventually impose a challenge for one vessel whereas another vessel can handle the fuel without any problem.

Again, cold flow properties is a topic included in the list of items for discussion!

UE: CCAI is a calculated value intended to give an indication of a residual fuel’s ignition quality. Is it still valid?

MV: So far there is no indication that CCAI, originally developed by Shell as a correlation between aromaticity and ignition performance of a residual fuel, is not valid for RM type VLSFOs. 

UE: We have seen a request at the IMO to examine whether it is possible to include new parameters in ISO 8217 to try to identify whether certain fuels may be more prone to emit black carbon, which essentially boils down to a fuel’s combustion behaviour. How can ISO respond to this?

MV: As mentioned above and as expected by the industry, 0.50% sulphur blends tend to be less aromatic and more paraffinic in nature than the HSFOs they have replaced. The general belief is that more aromatic fuels will emit more black carbon, though the formation of black carbon is a complex process and engine type, condition and operating profile are key contributing factors as well.

In 2010, CCAI was introduced in ISO 8217 to provide an indication of the ignition delay of the fuel and IP 541 offers another option, better known as FIA/FCA test, to evaluate the ignition and combustion profile of a fuel oil, although this test is not widely available and not really a test that can be done routinely and therefore typically performed when a vessel experiences serious problems that are suspected to be due to potential fuel ignition/combustion quality issues.

CCAI of the 0.50% sulphur blends is typically lower than for HSFOs indicative for shorter ignition delay and FIA/FCA analysis performed on VLSFOs with lower CCAI typically show higher estimated cetane number, earlier start of main combustion and higher rate of heat release for these fuels.

The challenge will be to evaluate whether any of the existing fuel characteristics, already included in ISO 8217, can be used to provide an additional indication of the nature of the fuel and the black carbon formation potency.

UE:  We have seen a lot of discussion about chemical contaminants in bunkers and we sometimes see calls for specific components to be included in ISO 8217 so it will be routinely tested for and a limit is set. Are there any new parameters under discussion for inclusion in the next revision?

MV: The presence, identification and impact on the fuel handling and performance of chemical contaminants/chemical substances in marine fuels is a much-debated topic, not only in the public press but also in the ISO working group. Testing the fuels and identification of potential chemical substances which are normally not found or were not found before in marine fuels is one aspect, determining the level at which an identified substance is potentially harmful is another aspect. A complicating factor is that some vessels can use a fuel that is found to contain particular chemical substance(s) without any problem, while another vessel experiences operational problems when using the same fuel.

Efforts are ongoing within the ISO working group to evaluate the feasibility to assess the performance of fuels found to contain chemical substances. Only when a chemical substance is proven to be the cause of a problem and the concentration at which the damage will occur know, can it be added as a specification to the standard.

UE: ISO 8217:2017 specifies the requirements for fuels for use in marine diesel engines and boilers, prior to conventional onboard treatment (settling, centrifuging, filtration) before use. Do you think there is sufficient understanding of the fact that the specification doesn’t mean the fuel is “fit for use” as it is? And could we potentially see the creation of a new standard for “engine ready” fuels?

MV: I believe there is sufficient understanding of the fact that fuels as supplied need to be cleaned, however not all vessels operate the equipment at optimum level.  As an example, centrifuges shall be operated at the correct operating temperature.  Failing to do so may result in catfines and water not efficiently being removed from the fuel, resulting potentially in wear damage. I don’t see a need to have a standard for “engine ready” fuels as vessels are built to treat the fuel onboard to a level so that OEM at engine inlet limits are met and not to receive fuels already cleaned up prior to delivery. Making fuels engine ready prior to delivery to the vessel would also impact the cost of the fuel. OEMs have their own at engine inlet fuel recommendations which are generally well-known throughout the industry.

*This article was originally published in the Autumn 2020 issue of World Bunkering, IBIA’s official magazine.

Monique Vermeire

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