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Innospec Fuel Specialities research and testing department, Ellesmere Port, UK. ©Innospec
Innospec Fuel Specialities research and testing department, Ellesmere Port, UK. ©Innospec

Adding stability

The various challenges faced by ship operators as they switched to VLSFO have spurred additives manufacturers to develop specific products to combat fuel management issues and excessive engine wear

World Bunkering asked Innospec Fuel Specialties what products the major additives manufacturer developed in anticipation of the 1 January 2020 implementation of the IMO 2020 0.50% sulphur limit.

The company’s Marketing Director, Christian Uerkwitz, replied: “Very early on we developed a number of products to tackle the ‘new’ issues. Based on our long-term experience with all kinds of fuels we were able to develop products that will give benefits in a number of applications.

 

“For example, our range of cold flow improvers (CFI) that was originally developed for MGO can now be applied to VLSFO to solve the wax formation issues that are present in the market. With more fuels available in the market we are also expanding our CFI product range to improve performance in as many fuels as we can.

 

“Our focus, however, was the stabilisation of the new low sulphur fuels and the anticipated stability and compatibility issues.”

 

Innospec’s Our two main products for tackling these problems are: Octamar™ HF-10 Plus and Octamar™ Ultra HF. The company says the first one stabilises fuel blends and reduces sludge formation. – it ”It is the first/only product to prevent fuel ageing due to high demand of distillate,” said Uerkwitz. The second product ; Octamar™ Ultra HF improves fuel blend stability and combustion while reducing soot formation and enhancing fuel economy, according to the company.

 

On the principal challenges identified, Uerkwitz commented: “Stability and compatibility were the main concerns, this was due to the varying compositions of VLSFO and well publicised regional variations. We are seeing more and more cases of instability due to ageing of the high distillate portion of the fuel. There is a definite need to heat VLSFO due to its high wax contents and this accelerates the distillate ageing process. It is kind of a Catch 22, you need to heat the fuel to keep the waxes in solution, but cannot heat it too much as otherwise the distillate portion of the fuel will show ageing issues and form gum and/or sediments. This has become apparent and is causing issues onboard, with the likes of VPS and FOBAS introducing tests to detect the wax appearance temperature (WAT).”

 

So, what has happened since 1 January, 2020? Has there been strong take-up of additives?

 

According to Uerkwitz: “Generally, all oil companies have been using fuel additives in the automotive industry, power generation plants, refineries, aviation industry, etc. for decades. These industries clearly understand and appreciate the benefit of fuel additives and in these markets, it is also common practice to run standardised tests to prove their performance,” according to Uerkwitz.

 

“The shipping industry has been the only fuel market not considering additives as a key component to improve fuel and thereby engine performance so far. A large number of people in the marine industry are still not aware of the advantages when using fuel additives and – equally important – struggle to measure their performance. Hence, the rather reluctant use of fuel treatment chemicals in the past. Now, in the run-up to 2020, this situation has changed. We have seen quite an up-take from shipping companies that have adopted the approach of ‘once bitten, twice shy’. There have also been many companies that have taken a proactive approach to risk mitigation, routinely dosing additives into every bunker stem,.” he observed.

Have the new additives performed as expected? Uerkwitz’s answer was unequivocal: “In short: Yes, absolutely! Our fuel experts have carried out extensive testing with a large number of different fuels sourced globally sourced and various combinations of them. Therefore, we know our new additives for VLSFO do offer operators greater flexibility on-board. That is to say they can adapt to every fuel type that comes on-board. For example, if the ship loads a fuel that has a high WAT, ship’s staff can heat it confidently, knowing that the fuel will not be as prone to thermal ageing. If they have a high-density, high-viscosity fuel, they can trust that their systems can handle it, without asphaltenic dropout.”

 

What other developments is Innospec working on? Will wider use of biofuels pose challenges and could the use of additives be appropriate?

 

Uerkwitz emphasised: “Octamar HF-10 Plus and Octamar Ultra HF are future-oriented additives. They are ready to perform in various marine fuels far beyond 2020. Already at the development stage, we knew the challenges faced by 2030 and that biofuels would play an important part in meeting the targets. Innospec are no strangers to biofuels as we are heavily involved in supporting refineries to meet automotive specifications where biofuels have been present in varying degrees for years. We know the challenges and how best to deal with them. That is why our Octamar™ HF products are Bio-ready.

 

“We are under no illusion that biofuels are the only route to 2030 targets, and that there is a tapestry of future fuels under development as we speak. Innospec are involved at all levels in the industry, from ISO/CIMAC all the way to the crew on-board. So, we are aware what fuel alternatives will be coming around the corner and we are constantly looking for smart ways to utilise our technological capabilities to keep our customer’s fleets moving.”

 

According to another major player in additives scene, Aderco, fuel stability remains the most important parameter for ship owners, managers and operators when selecting their fuel. Since the start of 2020 and the IMO’s introduction of the low 0.50% sulphur fuel cap, there have been concerns over this issue, particularly when it can result in severe financial implications resulting from damage to maritime marine diesel engines. Aderco, which describes its self as “one of the world’s most innovative fuel treatment companies”, told World Bunkering that it had “been working with the shipping industry for nearly 40 years and today fuel treatment is a proven and dependable solution to these problems”.

 

A spokesperson explained: “As we all know, VLSFO can generate sludge and contaminants that affect maritime engines in a variety of ways: damage to mechanical parts, fuel lines, filters clogging, and corrosion are common problems. In these cases, fuel stability is defined as – the ability of a fuel to retain asphaltenes in solution and a fuel oil with a high Stability Reserve can quickly “break down” and asphaltene (heavy polycyclic aromatics compounds) will form sludge or ‘sediments’ which results in an unwelcome build-up of sediments that are detrimental to the ship’s operations. The main concern is that some of today’s new low sulphur fuel oils remain a risk.

“Those low sulphur fuels with high sediment will result in excessive sludge in tanks which can lead to engine fuel starvation due to blocked and inefficient filters. Ships affected by these contaminants can often limp back to port although the strain on the crew and the mechanical systems can be disastrous. Without the use of a fuel treatment such as Aderco 2055G, the fuel can generate problems with plungers sticking, injection valves damaged and needing to be replaced, broken rings, cracked pistons and even connecting rods bent. These all result from contaminants and sludge and yet the problems associated with clogging from poor fuel can be simply addressed and resolved using a fuel treatment.”

 

Idris Talib – Technical Surveyor at Aderco, based in Singapore, has been involved in recent cases that have required the use of fuel treatment. He explained that, when Aderco tested the supplied fuel fromsome of the bunkers supplied in Houston, Texas, the fuel classified by the independent laboratory was “3” on the ASTM D4740 scale, indicating the fuel as being unstable. It also showed that naphthalene, an aromatic hydrocarbon, was also detected in the fuel. Presence of naphthalene could potentially destabilise the paraffinic fraction of this fuel blend, according to Aderco. To resolve this, Aderco’s “Bad Fuel Procedure” was immediately implemented resulting in the vessel consuming the fuel without any abnormal sludge precipitation or damage to machinery, which meant no off hire, de-bunkering and serious operational and financial damage for the ship owner.

 

Talib said: “Yet this is not a new problem and even before the IMO’s global 2020 sulphur cap came into effect there had been cautionary tales and in December 2019 test results on new low-sulphur marine blends from Singapore were found to contain sediment that could potentially damage the engines of vessels. This could have resulted in ships adrift due to engine failure. In fact, in 2018 there were reports of problems with fuel supplied in the US Gulf region, particularly in the Houston area and according to some industry experts more than 200 vessels were affected at that time by quality related issues with bunkered fuel. This why Aderco produced earlier this year its guide to resolving the five key fuel issues – VLSFO Fuel Guide: How Aderco 2055G improves the five key fuel oil issues.”

 

In 2019 one more manufacturer, Wilhelmsen, produced a White Paper that focused a lot on the need to prevent cylinder wear. Has World Bunkering asked the company’s Product Marketing Manager, Oil Solutions, Jonas Östlund, if that had turned out to have been the main issue, or even a significant one?

 

Östlund replied: “A regulation change will always bring challenges. In this case the change in sulphur content has an impact on the lubricating oil and the base number used. Before we changed over to VLSFO most residual fuel users, if we generalise, used a base number of 70+. Once the IMO 2020 regulations came into force and residual users changed to VLSFO or MGO with a maximum sulphur content of 0,5%, issues with wear were seen more often. The main reason for the increase in wear was the use of a too high base number, and as far as I have seen the recommendation today is to use a 40 BN lube oil with VLSFO. This adjustment in base number has now helped reduce the number of wear issues. But it shows the importance of continuously monitoring the performance of the engine to be able to see issues and take corrective actions before major damages can occur.”

 

To what extent had other issues – stability, compatibility, sludging, waxing and poor cold flow properties – manifested themselves and what solutions were there?

 

“We see all of the above issues in the market today,” Östlund noted. “Stability seems to have become a more serious problem with VLSFOs in conjunction with the wax and cold flow properties. With the blending done in the manufacture of VLSFO we tend to see a poorer intrinsic stability. This manifests itself in some cases as large amounts of sludge after a short time of storage.

We have seen several of these examples where the fuel is within specification when bunkered, but a few weeks later the Total Sediment Potential (TSP) is out of specification. In two recent examples the TSP was analysed at 0,28% and 0,17% after just a few weeks of storage. These cases will not show up in the statistics from the fuel testing companies so I am not sure how common the problem is.”

 

He continued: “We have also seen a drop in viscosity since the introduction of VLSFOs and in on average a VLSFO contains three times as much saturates compared to the high sulphur fuels and have a higher pour point that can lead to operational problems.
Since it is a residual fuel quality it is heated in the tanks, but recently we have seen discussions around Wax Appearance and Disappearance Temperatures of VLSFOs and the need to heat to high temperatures to avoid wax sedimentation. This also has an adverse effect on the stability of the VLSFO as an increase in storage temperature will accelerate the ageing and storage stability of the fuel.

 

“Wilhelmsen has a full set of solutions for all the above concerns through our Test & Treat program. We have test kits to monitor engine wear during operation, so potential issues can be identified and corrected. We have a full range of treatment chemicals to manage the stability and waxes to avoid excessive sludging from asphaltenes, as well as optimize the heating need for the VLSFO to avoid wax sedimentation and accelerated ageing.”

 

World Bunkering asked what challenges did greater use of biofuel pose and how could additives help?

 

Östlund said: “The increase of renewable biofuels in our hydrocarbon fuel pool will help to reduce the environmental impact. Adding biofuel poses challenges, promoting microbial growth in the fuel. For microbes to grow they need an environment and available food. The biofuel is hygroscopic and retains up to 5000 ppm of water, while a diesel fuel in general holds up to about 300 ppm of water. This means that the environment for growth is better for microbes in a fuel containing biofuel. Compared to the diesel the biofuel is also better food for the microbes and they digest them more readily, this means that biofuel provides both a better environment and food
for microbes, increasing the risk for microbial contamination.”

 

He added: “Through our Test & Treat program Wilhelmsen has the products to monitor the fuel for microbial contamination through our bacteria test kit. This is an ASTM test that provides conclusive results after 15 minutes and can easily be done before bunkering to make sure any new fuel is not contaminated. Fuel tanks should also be checked on regular intervals and if contamination is identified Wilhelmsen has the products to treat any contaminated fuel and remove microbial contamination.”

 

Ferrous meter wear test. ©Unitor
Ferrous meter wear test. ©Unitor

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