More Evolution Foretold for Marine Lubes

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More Evolution Foretold for Marine Lubes
A view of the main engine room inside an ocean vessel. © Sergiy1975

As the marine shipping industry transitions to engines using new fuel types that generate less carbon dioxide, cylinder oil development will need to continue evolving as lubricant and additive companies learn more about the systems, a speaker said during an online webinar last week.

“The role of additive and lubricant companies is to ensure that our developments take place and work alongside the commercial availability of these future fuels,” Ian Bown, technical manager for Lubrizol, said during “New fuel scenarios and their impact on lubrication,” a Riviera Maritime Media webinar held June 9. “And recognizing in the early stages that development processes are going to be more iterative. It’s going to take us time to understand the interactions between the lubricant, between the fuel and how existing bench tests correlate to real world conditions or how we might need to change those.”

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Kunal Mahajan, project manager, chemicals and energy, for Kline & Co. summarized the four main new fuels expected to gradually be incorporated into the global marine engine industry in the coming decades as part of the efforts towards decarbonization. By 2030 emissions for the shipping industry will have to decrease by 40% and by 2050, by 70%, he said. “One of the ways to do that 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.

“One qualitative point is all of them reduce emissions as compared to the marine fuel in use currently, but some of them reduce [emissions] more, some of them reduce less,” Mahajan added. He explained that while hydrogen reduces all kinds of emissions by 100%, ammonia offers no reduction in nitrogen oxides missions. “For methanol, the reduction in carbon emissions is probably around 5%, at most maybe 10%, not more than that,” he said.

He said a current issue with the new fuels is their low energy density. “So basically you need a bigger storage space for these fuel types in your ship or vessel, which basically reduces the space you can carry cargo in the case of deep sea vessels,” Mahajan noted.

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

He said methanol is estimated to be used as fuel in around 10-15 vessels, with more to be added by 2023. Estimates are that 45 to 50 vessels based on LPG are in operation or under construction.

While hydrogen enjoys the backing of many industry participants as a marine fuel of the future, he noted that only two to three vessels based on hydrogen are in operation or under construction. Meanwhile, the shipping industry is a few years away from using ammonia as a marine fuel, he noted.

“As of today and moving forwards, engine designers, additive suppliers and lubricant manufacturers were all working towards enabling these fuels to be part of the shipping industry out to 2050 and beyond,” Lubrizol’s Bown said.

The year 2020 proved to be a steep learning curve for companies in the lubricant additives business, according to Bown. IMO 2020 regulations took effect Jan. 1, lowering the cap on sulfur content in marine fuels from 3.5% to 0.5% by weight, requiring shipping companies to either switch from high-sulfur fuel oil to lower sulfur alternatives or to install exhaust scrubbers on their ships, which would allow the use of heavy fuel oil that is higher in sulfur content.

“It really helped us to understand some of the challenges we’re likely to face in future product development when we look at the alternative fuels that are being touted now in the market place,” he noted. In the longer term, compared to 2008, IM0 2050 will call for a 40% reduction in carbon dioxide emissions, and a 50% reduction total annual greenhouse gas emissions in 2050.

“We began our research into [very–low-sulfur fuel oil] and lubrication back in 2017,” he recalled. “And at that time we all recall that the industry was rife with articles and papers on VLSFO – its inherit variability, how it was going to be manufactured. And from an additive manufacturer’s perspective that presented us with some challenges.”

Bench tests such as those used to determine deposit formation and antioxidancy gave direction to the lubricant formulation approach, with some tests producing results that did not correlate with what was seen in test engines, he noted.

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

“What we have to do now is work out how we are going to enable those fuels in the market, along with the engine designers that are also working to enable those fuels,” Bown said. “We’ve got 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 suit those changes.”

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

He said 2020 highlighted the need to look at bench tests and to think differently about formulating cylinder oils and about additives and enhanced chemistry that might be needed. “As the fuelscape evolves, so too must the lubricant development,” he said. “We must do that swiftly, because it’s well recognized within industry that while these changes come in quite quickly from some areas, lubricant development sometimes is not as fast. That’s because we have to develop these tests, and we have to understand the impacts of these fuels when they are in service. It might not be a one size fits all, but for sure it’s going to be a right oil, right application.”