Clean and Smooth Sailing

In the rush to embrace cleaner fuels, advanced lubes and additives play a critical role in preventing engine failure.

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Published May 16, 2022 2:10 AM by Sean Hogue

(Article originally published in Mar/Apr 2022 edition.)

January 1, 2020 saw the introduction of a significant milestone in the marine industry – designed to improve air quality, preserve the environment and protect human health. The new rule, known as “IMO 2020,” limited the amount of sulfur used in shipboard fuels to 0.5 percent – down from the previous limit of 3.5 percent. 

The reduction, compulsory following an amendment to Annex VI of the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL), marked a major step toward carbon-neutral operations. Even stricter requirements are mandatory in the four emission-control areas (ECAs) globally – the Baltic, North Sea, North America and the U.S. Caribbean Sea. The limit in these regions is 0.1 percent.

The 86 percent drop in sulfur oxide (SOx) emissions resulting from IMO 2020 will remove approximately 8.5 million tons of sulfur from the atmosphere annually. These emissions cause respiratory and cardiovascular disease in people and lead to acid rain, which impacts the food chain, flora and aquatic ecosystems of coastal regions.

To comply with the rule, vessel operators have several options: Switch from using heavy fuel oil (HFO) with a high sulfur content to very low sulfur fuel oil (VLSFO); install exhaust gas cleaning systems known as “scrubbers”; or switch to alternative fuels such as LNG, which have a lower sulfur content as the base line.

Yet every action has a consequence, and in this case reducing the sulfur content in fuels also reduces the amount of lubrication the fuel provides. This leads to increased engine wear and decreased maintenance cycles if left unchecked. That’s where the aftermarket comes in.

Additives As an Easy Solution        

Reducing the amount of sulfur in fuel means reducing the fuel’s lubricity. Fortunately, the right fuel additive can fix this while helping fuels burn cleanly and more efficiently and reducing carbon buildup in the process. 

U.K.-based SolNOx Group specializes in the decarbonization of liquid hydrocarbons using SulNOxEco – a sustainable, fully green solution.

Rather than adding refinery byproducts and increasing cetane points (a rating for diesel similar to octane for gasoline), which can mask poor combustion and potentially invalidate an engine’s warranty, the SulNOxEco ingredients combine to increase lubricity and detergency, add oxygen availability to fuel and emulsify problematic free water into the fuel oil, further increasing the overall oxygen availability. This improves efficiency, provides increased power and torque and decreases temperatures.

It also reduces killer particulate matter up to 60 percent and greenhouse gas emissions by up to 30 percent while offering an average 8-10 percent fuel savings across all equipment types.

A case study using comparable data sets monitored a Caterpillar 18-cylinder engine, taking measurements at various throttle settings. Power per liter increased 19 percent and torque increased by 16 percent following addition of the conditioner. This, combined with lower temperatures, means reduced emissions and increased reliability.

In addition to boosting performance, additives improve the fuel’s stability. A study performed by Singapore-based ADERCO Smart Solutions found that bunker samples tested by an independent laboratory resulted in a “3” on the ASTM D4740 scale, indicating that the fuel was unstable – despite its meeting the parameters of ISO 8217, classifying it as “normal.”

A second study examined Total Sediment Potential (TSP), Total Sediment Accelerated (TSA) and Existent Total Sediment (TSE) on low-viscosity fuels (<60o C) to ascertain the sludge precipitation potential. A fuel with a high TSP was selected. The ADERCO additive was added, and the TSP was reduced by more than 90 percent along with a considerable reduction in the TSA and TSE values.

While large deviations in fuel oil quality and the effects of burning VLSFO are a constant challenge, the smart use of additives can help ensure proper machinery functioning and act as a facilitator during the energy transition.

Alternative Fuels – Challenges and Solutions

In addition to the very low sulfur fuels mandated by IMO 2020, operators are increasingly turning to alternative fuels that have low or no sulfur content. Biofuels, LNG, methanol and green ammonia are some examples.

Widespread use of these fuels needs to be considered from two viewpoints: First, in terms of the onboard equipment as produced by the OEM, run by the vessel operator and supported by the lube oil manufacturers; and second, from the perspective of the global fuel supply chain.

Why do we use lubricants? We use them to prevent abrasion and corrosion and to keep the engine internals clean. This supports performance, reduces maintenance cycles and keeps emissions to the designated standard.

Yet the many possible combinations of equipment (both new designs and repurposed), fuels and lubricants increases the complexity of the solutions required. It isn’t yet readily apparent how the different fuels will be used in the future and what lubricant solutions will be available.

This makes the need for intelligent monitoring extremely important.

With a notable percentage of machinery failures attributed to poor oil condition monitoring, it’s clear that sampling and testing play a major role in any vessel’s maintenance plan. Shell Lubricants offers a tiered program of monitoring and analysis that can help prevent unplanned downtime, lower maintenance costs and increase operational efficiency.

The Shell LubeMonitor is an app-based system that helps companies monitor and inspect their 2-stroke main engines. It includes fleet and vessel insights; a comprehensive engine inspection feature that allows inclusion of recorded measurements of piston ring clearance, piston ring coating and liner wear; and step-by-step guidance for on-board engineers, which can help standardize the inspection process.

The system pairs with Shell’s LubeAnalyst program, which provides analysis of lube oil samples sent to shore-based laboratories. The results are entered into the database and provided back to the vessel in a digital report or accessed through the LubeMonitor application. With over 1,000 inspections in the system, the app’s database has already proven its immense value, having determined that an engine had broken piston rings through analysis alone.

Going one step further is Shell’s VitalyX system, powered by Shell Remote Sense. This intelligently monitors the oil condition in real time, providing real-time diagnosis and alerts. These readings continually update the vessel’s database and, combined with results from lab samples, offer the clearest picture of the health of the ship’s machinery.

Chevron Marine Lubricants Fluid Analysis Service & Trending (FAST) program also offers onshore laboratory testing with ISO-certified laboratories positioned globally. The results are accessible through the web portal, which offers trending, condition over time and at-a-glance graphs to quickly assess results.

Going a step further, the FAST Onboard solution introduces a cost-effective method of analyzing lubes onboard, which facilitates early detection and prompt decision-making on corrective action that could be the difference between a costly failure or cost-effective planned maintenance. The multi-parameter test kit gives fast results and addresses water, BN number, insolubles, viscosity and saltwater determination. 

Global Fuel Supply Chain

COVID-19 has been a major global disruptor on the bunker supply chain.

KPI OceanConnect, one of the world’s largest and most experienced independent marine energy service and solutions providers, reported at the end of 2021 that in Hong Kong – one of the world's busiest and largest container ports – demand remains high from container vessels. However, other segments have seen tonnage reduced by 30-40 percent from 2018 levels, due to restrictions on bunker-only calls and strict quarantine policies.

The result is that neighboring ports like Singapore have seen strong spot demand and tight availability of cargoes and barges along with more deliveries of biofuel and LNG to support the green transition. 

KPI OceanConnect has introduced a carbon offset program to aid the energy transition with the first successful transaction taking place in 2021 in the U.S. The voluntary carbon units are derived from a Texas windfarm and verified by Verra Registry. These allow emissions and CO2 output to be balanced with the purchase of an equivalent qualified offset, creating a carbon-neutral fuel supply. 

This innovative program is a responsible midterm solution in the transition to cleaner energy while still using legacy fuels.

Looking to the Future

While great strides are being made towards implementing alternative fueling solutions, it’s clear that hydrocarbon-based fuels will continue as the primary source of combustion for many years to come.  The takeaway is twofold.

First, it’s important to continue developing solutions to make existing engines operate more efficiently, especially while burning lower sulfur fuels. Innovative solutions such as fuel additives are an excellent step in helping companies meet ambitious net zero targets while providing a solution for immediate decarbonization.

And it doesn’t hurt that the fuel savings typically exceed the expense of the additive, providing a positive financial return!

Second, strong collaboration among all stakeholders is needed. OEM engine manufacturers, lubrication specialists, vessel operators, fuel manufacturers and brokers all have a role to play.  Advances won’t come quickly enough to meet such lofty goals as IMO 2050, which calls for zero emissions by 2050, unless everyone participates. There are simply too many combinations of equipment, fuel types and quality and lubricants to account for all variables without open dialogue.

The goal, while not without its challenges, is a worthy one if we are to leave a healthier, cleaner planet for the next generation. 

Sean Hogue is Vice President of Marine Assurance at Baker Marine Solutions and a frequent contributor to the magazine.

The opinions expressed herein are the author's and not necessarily those of The Maritime Executive.