Year end thoughts
3rd January 2011 17:50 GMT

As the year draws to a close, looking at the happenings in the bunker market with regard to quality, prices, problems etc., one cannot help noticing the increase in the number of problem fuels all over the world.

We have ourselves dealt with 22 cases of purifier/filter choking, 18 cases of piston ring breakage and 11 cases of fuel pump jamming and miscellaneous other problems in 2010 alone.

We have also noticed that invariably, low sulfur fuels (sulfur less than 1.00%) intended for ECA areas are of a poorer quality with more water and more catfines. Viscosity for these low sulfur fuels was unusually low. 380 grade fuels in Rotterdam were supplied with 250 to 290 cSt viscosity. This could mean excessive use of low cost cutter stock such as shale oil for blending. Shale oil can reduce stability, lower ignition and combustion properties, add to the acidic content through presence of phenolic substances.

Global industry experts are saying:
•    ACHIEVING A 0.5% SULFUR CAP BY 2020 WILL BE VERY DIFFICULT, EVEN BY 2025
•    SWITCHING ALL SHIPS TO DISTILLATE FUEL WILL CALL FOR $200 BILLION IN SECONDARY REFINING
•    REFINERIES HAVE NOT PLANNED ANYTHING FOR THE NEXT TEN YEARS
•    BUNKER FUEL PRICES WILL RISE WITH INCREASED DEMAND AND TIGHTENING OIL MARKETS. PRICES OF $1,000 PER MT BY 2025 ARE QUITE LIKELY
•    ABATEMENT TECHNOLOGY OR SCRUBBERS CAN BE AN INTERMEDIATE SOLUTION. THEY CAN COST $15 BILLION BY 2025 AND THEY WILL SCRUB DOWN 50 MILLION MT OF HSFO ANNUALLY
•    LNG HOLDS MOST POTENTIAL BUT HAS ITS OWN SET OF PROBLEMS. EXPERTS FEEL LNG CAN COVER ONLY 5% TO 10% OF GLOBAL BUNKER NEEDS BY 2025

The new fuel standard has not helped much. In fact, the new standard protects the supplier more than the fuel user. All through the year, we have received innumerable complaints about having to change broken piston rings at mid sea, having to clean choked filters continuously, having to undergo panic moments with main engines coming to a halt suddenly. THE PERILS FOR THE ULTIMATE FUEL USER, NAMELY THE SHIP STAFF, SEEMS TO HAVE INCREASED GREATLY.

What can be done about this? At the risk of sounding partisan, only comprehensive testing (in addition to the routine testing) can catch a fuel with serious problems. Only continuous monitoring of the onboard treatment plant can improve the quality of the fuels. Finally, this fuel has to be optimally used in the engine by manipulating the engine controls or chemically treating the fuel.  These are the topics that Viswa Lab has been continuously addressing over several seminars and articles all over the world.

What is the message? Going by the experts, nothing much is going to change. The 0.5% sulfur fuel is not there and there is no available distillate fuel to take the place of heavy fuels. Scrubbers can only solve the problem in a small way. Under these conditions we only have the following options:

-  Do what we are doing more smartly.
-  Identify problem fuels using extended testing.
-  Use the onboard treatment plant efficiently and effectively.
-  Manipulate engine controls; treat the fuel to obtain maximum thermal efficiency (Total Fuel Management).
-  By saving on fuel, you will be reducing all emissions including CO2.

Here is a New Year wish. Let us hope that a dramatic research breakthrough will help bring down the sulfur content in bunker fuels easily and at low cost.


Dr. Ram Vis,
3rd January 2011 17:50 GMT

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