More Evolution and Changes Planned for Marine Lubricants

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Marine Lubricants
A view of the main engine room inside an oceanic ship. © Sergiy1975

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Evolving Marine Lubricants

As the shipping industry transitions to engines that use new types of fuels that generate less carbon dioxide, cylinder oil development will need to continue to evolve, as lubricants and additives companies learn more about those systems, said a speaker during an online webinar last week.

“The role of additive and lubricant companies is to ensure that our developments take place and work together with the commercial availability of these future fuels,” said Ian Bown, Lubrizol’s technical manager, during “New Fuel Scenarios and Their Impact on Lubrication,” a Riviera Maritime Media Online Seminar held on 9 June.

“It will take time to understand the interactions between lubricant, fuel, and how existing bench tests correlate to real-world conditions, or how we might need to change them.

Kunal Mahajan, Project Manager for Chemicals & Energy at Kline & Co. summarized the four key new fuels that are expected to be gradually incorporated into the global marine engine industry in the coming decades as part of the decarbonization efforts.

IMO 2050 will be even stricter

By 2030, emissions from the shipping industry will have to decrease by 40% and by 2050 by 70%, he said. “One of the ways to do this is with these new fuels,” he added.

In a report released in March, “Global Marine Lubricants: Market Analysis and Opportunities,” Kline focused on four new marine fuels: methanol, liquefied petroleum gas, ammonia, and hydrogen. He noted that each new fuel has pros and cons.

“A qualitative point is that they all reduce emissions compared to the marine fuel currently in use, but some of them reduce [emissions] more, some of them reduce less,” added Mahajan. He explained that while hydrogen reduces all types of emissions by 100%, ammonia offers no reduction in nitrogen oxide emissions. “For methanol, the reduction in carbon emissions is probably around 5%, at most 10%, no more than that.”

He said a current problem with new fuels is their low energy density. “So, basically, you need more storage space for these types of fuel on your ship or vessel, which fatally reduces the space to transport cargo in the case of offshore vessels,” noted Mahajan.

One advantage of methanol and LPG is that the industry already has a lot of experience using both. “If we look at methanol and LPG, they are easily available, in fact, LPG already has almost a thousand supply terminals and hubs, so it can be easily supplied to the shipbuilding industry.” Meanwhile, ammonia offers a higher storage temperature than most other fuels.

According to him, it is estimated that methanol will be used as fuel in around 10 to 15 vessels, with more to be added by 2023. It is estimated that between 45 and 50 LPG-based vessels are in operation or under construction.

While hydrogen is supported by many industry players as a marine fuel of the future, he noted that only two or three hydrogen-based vessels are in operation or under construction. Meanwhile, the shipping industry has been a few years away from using ammonia as a marine fuel, he noted.

“As of today and going forward, engine designers, additive suppliers and lubricant manufacturers are all working to enable these fuels to be part of the marine industry through 2050 and beyond,” said Bown of Lubrizol.

A year of learning

The year 2020 proved to be a steep learning curve for companies in the lubricant additives business, according to Bown. The IMO 2020 regulations came into effect on January 1, reducing the limit for sulfur content in marine fuels from 3.5% to 0.5% by weight, requiring shipping companies to switch from high-content fuel oil of sulfur by alternatives with lower sulfur content or installing exhaust scrubbers on their ships, which would allow the use of heavy fuel oil with higher sulfur content.

“It really helped us to understand some of the challenges that we are likely to face in future product development as we look at alternative fuels that are now being heralded on the market,” he noted. In the long term, compared to 2008, IM0 2050 will require a 40% reduction in carbon dioxide emissions and a 50% reduction in annual greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

“We started our research on fuel oil with very low sulfur content and lubrication in 2017,” he recalled. “And back then we all remembered that the industry was full of articles and documents about the VLSFO – its inherent variability, how it would be manufactured. And from the point of view of the manufacturer of the additive, this presented us with some challenges.”

Bench tests, such as those used to determine deposit formation and oxidation resistance, guided the lubricant formulation approach, with some tests yielding results that do not correlate with what was seen in test engines, he noted. .

“So we had to go back and take a look at these bench tests and in some cases modify them and in others we had to introduce new tests that would give us some indication of how a lubricant would perform,” Bown said. “This development of additives and lubricants cost us time, cost us resources and cost us money in terms of investment in equipment and test methods. Therefore, it is likely, based on this scenario, that this will continue as we consider these alternative fuels in the future.

Many questions still to be answered

“What we have to do now is figure out how we’re going to enable these fuels in the market, along with the engine designers who are also working to enable them,” Bown said. “We need to have a very close cooperation here to understand what – if anything – is changing in the engine and how we need to adapt, modify or reformulate our additives to meet those changes.”

Before moving on to this stage, he added that many questions need to be answered. “Do all these fuels behave the same?” he asked. “Combustion characteristics, cylinder temperatures, pressures, acids that may or may not be formed, or properties inherent to the fuel itself. For example, we know that ammonia has corrosive tendencies. How do we do it? ”

He said 2020 highlighted the need to look at bench testing and think differently about formulating cylinder oils and about additives and improved chemistry that might be needed. “As the fuel landscape evolves, so does the development of lubricants,” he said. “We must do this quickly because it is well known in the industry that although these changes come quickly from some areas, lubricant development is sometimes not that fast. That’s because we have to develop these tests and understand the impacts of these fuels when they are in service. It may not be one size fits all, but it will definitely be the right oil for the right application.”