White paper identifies VLSFO engine condition challenges

A selection of different 0.5% max sulphur fuels. Credit: Ship & Bunker

Legacy cylinder oils may not protect ship engines from the variable fuel characteristics of very-low-sulphur fuel oil (VLSFO), global additive supplier The Lubrizol Corp. has advised. In a white paper, Lubrizol outlines the research that underpins its advice that shipowners should use lubricants specifically formulated for these challenges.

Marine bench and engine tests revealed a high degree of variability in deposit formation and combustion characteristics among VLSFO blends, even using samples acquired from a relatively small geographical area. The widespread uptake of VLSFO as the International Maritime Organization’s (IMO’s) sulphur cap enters force could lead to increased incidence of engine deposits and costly damage if the lubricants selected by ship operators are not robust enough to maintain engine cleanliness.

Lubrizol’s findings appear to be supported by early reports of high sediment levels – exceeding the specifications in the ISO 8217:2017 marine fuel standard – in many test samples of 0.5% sulphur fuel taken in Houston and Singapore. Fuels with high sediment levels can lead to an accumulation of sludge in fuel storage, handling, and treatment systems, which could damage ship engines.

“It’s clear that some features of VLSFOs introduce variability that will require lubricants with improved deposit-handling performance,” said Harriet Brice, technology manager, marine diesel engine oils, Lubrizol. “Using a more robust lubricant will help to reduce the impact to the engine of this variability.”

Marine cylinder oils for low-sulphur fuels have not had to cope with this degree of deposit formation in the past and their additive packages may not be robust enough to handle the variable fuel characteristics of VLSFO. Lubrizol has developed an additive package, balancing traditional detergents with novel dispersants that secures engine cleanliness even when faced with these challenges.

The use of novel additive chemistries will not stop in 2020 as shipping’s fuel market continues to diversify. In particular, emerging low-carbon and carbon-neutral fuels will come with their own challenges for engine condition.

The white paper, titled, The VLSFO Challenge: Looking Deeper for Lubricant Performance, can be downloaded here.