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Taking stock of 2020 fuel switch

Both Chevron and Castrol have published results of surveys to gauge the effects of changing to VLSFO

After over half a year of low-sulphur fuel operations for international shipping, Chevron Marine Lubricants has distilled its experiences of working with new fuels and lubricants into a recently published ‘whitepaper’.

Example of a piston with scuffing and deposits. ©Chevron Marine Lubricants
Example of a piston with scuffing and deposits. ©Chevron Marine Lubricants

Taking the Temperature of the 2020 fuel sulphur switch includes findings based on work with ship operators worldwide to manage the transition from traditional high-sulphur fuel oil (HSFO) to very low-sulphur fuel oil (VLSFO) – the most widely used means of complying with IMO’s 2020 regulation. The paper also explores what these experiences mean for shipping as it prepares for even greater changes in the future, as decarbonisation and other sustainability targets further influence fuel choices.

 

“Chevron’s observations show that most ship operators managed the transition very well,” says Ian Thurloway, Brand, Marketing and Business Development Manager for Chevron Marine Lubricants. “Fuel quality has been less variable than expected and accurate recommendations on cylinder lubrication helped prevent the worst fears from being realised. But there have been engine condition concerns and rigorous monitoring remains a fundamental of any fuel change – particularly faced with a whole new range of clean fuels to choose from.”

 

Chevron notes that VLSFO in general has a higher energy content than HSFO, offering good value for users. But its rapid ignition has caused problems for some older engines. Meanwhile the practice of flushing high-sulphur residues from tanks ahead of the regulation’s entry into force also contributed to an increase in cylinder condition challenges early in the year.

 

The lower sulphur content in marine fuel also reduces the safety margin between normal piston running, with a limited but manageable level of corrosion, and damaging abrasive or adhesive wear. To detect these conditions before they lead to irreversible engine damage Chevron recommends that operators employ a robust onboard drip oil monitoring programme, supported by frequent onshore laboratory analysis. Chevron’s own DOT.FAST® service now includes a separate indicator for abrasive/adhesive wear in its onshore laboratory analyses.

 

Meanwhile, global lubricants supplier Castrol has also highlighted the increasingly important role of marine lubricants as the engine room environment changes.

 

According to Castrol, more efficient engines, new and varied fuels, and recent changes to leading OEM cylinder oil strategies are making lubricant choice a more important and complex decision. Castrol’s survey of marine owners, operators and managers, earlier this year, revealed that 30% of those surveyed had undertaken no or
limited planning to prepare for these new fuels.

 

The lubricant manufacturer warns: “When the dynamic between engine, fuel and lubricant isn’t right it could result in reduced efficiency, dirtier engines, and damage to cylinders, while increasing costs. The changes mean owners and operators should consult closely with lubricant providers to find solutions for engines that have a good balance of both cleaning and neutralising power.”

 

Cassandra Higham, marketing director, Global Marine & Energy, Castrol, comments: “The sulphur cap means we have entered a new era of complexity in the engine room. In addition, the journey to decarbonisation will mean an increasingly diverse fuel mix, where lubricant choice becomes more critical.

 

“Increasing stress on engines, a focus on cost, and more blended fuels mean that previous assumptions in the choice of lubricants no longer apply. Castrol supports a new, collaborative approach, with an emphasis on engine cleanliness, in this more challenging operating environment.”

 

For years, the measure of performance of a cylinder oil has been largely based on its alkalinity, or base number (BN). However, with lower sulphur levels in fuels, cylinder oils need to have both cleaning and neutralising power to protect engine hardware. Castrol Cyltech 40SX was formulated with a bespoke detergency system specifically for use with low sulphur fuels.

 

Higham adds: “It is vital that lubricant providers, engine manufacturers, ship owners, fuel suppliers and technical staff come together to smooth the road for shipping. The current challenges are only the tip of the iceberg, as the shipping industry aims to transition to new lower carbon fuels and energy.”

Castrol says it is working with the whole sector to help change the way the market views marine lubricants. Part of this includes a programme of consultative operational and technical improvements, SmartGains, that is intended to “drive efficiencies across the engine room”.

 

WinGD launches new guide
Engine designer Winterthur Gas & Diesel (WinGD) says it has prioritised collaboration and transparency in its new cylinder lubrication guide, to ensure that selecting the right oil is easier than ever. For the first time, it says, the new documentation provides ship operators with consolidated, at-a-glance information highlighting the specific usage conditions for each and every approved cylinder oil.

 

The guidance is the result of several months’ work with major oil companies to make usage requirements more transparent. Previously, the guidelines for each oil were found only in the industry standard No Objection Letters (NOL) issued by WinGD to oil companies, and available only upon request by a customer to an oil company directly. Now this information has been included in the full list of approved cylinder oils.

 

To find an appropriate cylinder oil, users first select a suitable Base Number (BN) range based on their fuel sulphur content. Customers then look through the guide to see which oil products fall within a specified BN range. The document then highlights whether each oil is approved for general, long-term use or whether further stipulations – such as a time limit or greater frequency of inspections – are required. An additional category, labelled as ‘DF validated’ shows whether the oil has passed a validation trial while burning gas as the predominant fuel during that trial.

 

“Cylinder oil is not just another consumable onboard – it’s considered an important engine component that ensures reliable operation,” says Frank Venter, WinGD Project Engineer Tribology Fuels & Lubricants. “Given the already wide variability in existing fuels available, it is important that engine companies and oil suppliers work together to offer clarity for ship operators about which oils can be used and how. This will become increasingly important as we embrace a decarbonised future with potentially multiple varied sources of both liquid and gaseous fuels.”

 

Total Lubmarine opens Chicago lab
The opening of Total Lubmarine’s new Diagomar Plus Laboratory in Chicago means the marine lubricant specialist now has five centres around the world, with the others located in Belgium, Singapore, China and Panama.

 

“North America is an increasingly busy market for us and the opening of the Chicago Lab ensures we have a specialist team on hand to deliver onshore dedicated technical support to our customers,”” said Olivier Suming, Service Product Manager at Total Lubmarine.

 

The new lab offers standard analyses for engine oil, non-engine oil, drain oil, thermal oil, stern tube oil, and environmentally acceptable lubricant (EAL).

Cassandra Higham, Marketing Director, Global Marine & Energy, Castrol
Cassandra Higham, Marketing Director, Global Marine & Energy, Castrol

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