Gearing up for the 2020 sulphur cap

Can LNG save the day?

Total Lubmarine’s global marketing manager, Serge Dal Farra offers insight into how his company and the market is approaching the impending global 0.5% sulphur cap on marine fuels and its impacts on marine lubricants.

Asked how Total Lubmarine was dealing with the approaching deadline Mr Dal Farra said:

“We support the 2020 sulphur cap, and our current strategy reflects that. We understand that to the market, it may seem as if lube oil suppliers must simply tweak their existing products to prepare for the reduction to 0.5% sulphur emissions, but actually, it is not that easy. That is because there are possible issues with compliant fuel quality, which could potentially lead to poor combustion. Simply changing BN levels may not be sufficient to avoid engine fouling, liner scuffing or ring breakdowns – costing customers huge amounts in engine maintenance or replacement.

“It seems that in the lubricants market there are two schools of thought about 2020. One approach is reactive, refining existing products and hoping that they will work. The second is proactive and innovative, delivering products that will focus on the specific challenges of 2020. We have always moved according to our beliefs; and we believe that proactive R&D is the way forward. Technology in the industry is changing all the time, and we must ensure that our approach as a lube oil supplier is not monolithic.

“That is why we are working closely with OEMs, proactively harnessing our R&D capabilities to deliver a 2020 product that will help our customers to ease the pain of the transition. We want engineers on board our customer’s vessels to know that we are there to help them when 2020 comes around. That is why we make sure that our customer chooses the right product, we make sure that the product is used correctly, and we make sure that it is monitored to enhance efficiency.

“For example, we offer iron content analysis and BN test kits, as well as an onshore lab program. Then, our experts can analyze and exploit this data, helping customers omtimize engine lubrication and therefore control OPEX after 2020.”

But, come 1 January 2020 will there be enough low sulphur fuel to go around? And will it matter?

“What we understand from our discussions with customers and with our partners at Total Marine Fuels Global Solutions (TMFGS), is that a limited number of operators have made the choice as to which low sulphur solution they will use,” said Mr Dal Farra.

“Of course no choice realistically means 0.5% fuel to be compliant in 2020 – and therefore we think there will be a convergence on low sulphur fuel, which is why we are developing a brand new product.

“Our DNA is to always provide solutions to our customers for any application on board,” he added.

Mr Dal Farrar sits firmly on the fence when it comes to the difficult decision shipowners must make about the viability of marine scrubbers.

“We understand that there are many difficult decisions ahead for our customers, and we will do our best to help them in any way we can. Each vessel is different, with different ages, trading pattern and types – requiring different solutions for 2020. Alongside TMFGS, we are very keen to work project by project when it comes to fuel choice and lubrication management; a unique and bespoke approach to products and services.

“For example, our high BN Talusia Optima has been approved by all OEMs, and is flexible enough for heavy sulphur fuel oil but at the same time matches usage of distillate fuels, without creating unwanted deposits – reducing the risk of human error when changing lubes and lightening the load on OPEX. Therefore, should the usage of high sulphur heavy fuel oil remain popular in the future, we are prepared,” he concludes.

When it comes to adopting the right technology in the face of the sulphur cap the water is further muddied by additional options such as LNG as ship’s fuel. It would appear that even the oil majors have no clear answer at this stage, according to Mr Dal Farra.

“We are already in a complex environment. An increase in regulation on fuels as well as specific regional rules regarding bunkering has created complexities in terms of supply. Suppliers have had an increased number of products to deal with, whilst still looking to deliver across their networks. Bear in mind that only a decade ago there were 2 products for 2-stroke engines, where today we have 6+ products for 2-strokes. Other suppliers have been forced to reduce their number of delivery ports because of this increased complexity, but we are proud to have kept the same network through regulatory challenges.

“It would be nice to believe that these complexities would go. But, a solution must be matched with the engine type, engine load and fuel type, as well as operational patterns (slow steaming for example).

“Because there is a very limited experience with LNG on 2-stroke in the entire market, it is too early to give an answer on what the exact challenges will be in real and large scale. Despite that, we have OEM recommended products in our range and we fully comply with their guidelines, even if guidelines are adapted as more data is collected.”

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