BANISHING THE SPECTRE OF THE FUEL ADDITIVE "SNAKE OIL"

01/10/2014 - 



BANISHING THE SPECTRE OF THE FUEL ADDITIVE ‘SNAKE OIL’

As the shipping industry waits with bated breath for a clear sign that a recovery in the debt-ridden freight markets may at last be on the cards, it has been whiling away the months and the years trying to work out how it can run its ships against a backdrop of growing regulatory pressure, budgetary cutbacks and mounting vessel operating costs.

The spectre of soaring bunker rates, spiralling operating expenses, as well as doubts over the absolute competency of the thousands of new officer recruits needed to man the extra ships coming out of the world’s shipyards refuses to go away.

And we haven’t even talked about shipping’s impact on the environment. As levels in emission control areas (ECA) tighten even further from January 1 next year, ship owners are facing a whole set of new challenges, not least over the impact ECAs will have on vessel operating costs, but also on what is the right fuel strategy to employ to minimise the disruption incurred moving into and out of these emission areas.

And that is fine from a regulatory and political perspective, but operationally there are also significant consequences. One issue that hasn’t been really hit the headlines is the potential damage engines can incur when switching from heavy fuel oil to low sulphur products. A build-up of cat fines in the fuels, for instance, can cause expensive insurance claims as well as a rapid decline in fuel quality.

The sensitive handling and changeover of fuels will require considerable care and attention by ships’ engineers after the new rules have come into force, especially as serious propulsion problems can arise, according to Olivier d’Olne, General Manager of Aderco Europe, an expert in this field.

“We hear of challenges from ships’ engine room staff when they have to deal with HFO instability at sea and the associated delicate switchover from HFO to ULSMGO when approaching an ECA area,” he said.

“Each has to be handled in a different way with HFO often incurring a build-up of sludge, asphaltenes, cat fines, vanadium, water and waste chemicals while ULSMGO can lack sufficient lubricity. Big problems indeed, when you consider the reducing effect these factors can have on the efficient operation of both the main and the auxiliary engines, not to mention placing even more workload on the shoulders of the ships’ engineers,” Mr d’Olne added.

The challenge of new regulations is also an issue that may impact fuel quality and efficiency in the future as well.

Fuel quality has changed significantly over the past decades due to a more modern and complex refining process. We often see use of more aromatics cutter stock, introduction of waste chemicals, silicon and aluminium fines and, of particular concern, the reduction of sulphur content,” Mr d’Olne explained.

The problem occurs because the fuels are very different in terms of their specification and, in the case of HFO, it has to be heated up to 130-140 deg C to inject it properly, whereas marine gasoil can be injected at room temperature. The switchover procedure will be very problematic and the use of low sulphur in the long run carries a risk of damaging your fuel injection system. The answer has been to produce a marine gasoil additive to reduce this problem.

Maritime commentators have also long-pointed to the time lapse between engine manufacturers keeping pace with the demands of the markets and the rapid evolution of marine fuels. As the Aderco Europe boss indicated, while bunkered fuels may well be within standard limits and the fuel analysis will often show a product to be within the specification ordered, consumption of the fuel can end up being an entirely different experience than expected with the crew having to face the dramatic consequences of the effects on both main and auxiliary engines before, during and after combustion.

“An example could be that more carbons, more chemicals and more fatty acid bio diesel waste may have been added outside ISO parameter tests, meaning that your bunker fuel is not always suitable for your engine’s operation even if it is found to be within the limits of the fuel analysis. All of this can be extremely costly for the ship owner,” Mr d’Olne stressed.

More attention and work will subsequently have to be paid in overcoming fuel instability issues, leaving far less time for maintenance.  “Prevention has to be far better than cure when addressing potential HFO and ULSMGO issues and, in the long term, will save an owner considerable and unnecessary expense,” he added.

Effective fuel treatment is the key to condition the bunker fuels and ensure a smooth fuel operation. It can also minimise the impact on vessel engine and ancillary equipment by often extending the time between overhauls. Unplanned maintenance, delivery of unscheduled urgent spare parts, the appointment of service engineers and reduced maintenance intervals can invariably all be avoided, in addition to reducing a company’s carbon footprint.

Aderco has been developing fuel treatment additives for both the maritime and inland industries, such as Power Stations and other transportation sectors, for over 35 years and through assessment and follow-up processes, performance improvements and cost savings have clearly been achieved.

The lubricity improver additive Aderco L1050 is designed to restore or to maintain the highest lubricity grade in the ULSGO (Ultra Low Sulphur Marine Gasoil), as well as drastically minimize the risk of seizure of the fuel injection system, as well as wear and tear on moving parts, whereas Aderco 2055G is designed to overcome related HFO issues. Aderco L1050 - perhaps the most important product today - is designed to restore the ULSGO lubricity grade.

Industry requirements will always be there but as is so often the case, the repercussions of such laws are only truly felt once they are set in train. The last thing the industry needs is more cost and even more undulating playing fields. As least with fuel treatment, there is a way out for ship owners and managers to weather these tough times.

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