Cylinder Oil Options for a Post-2020 World

Dr. Sara Lawrence (courtesy Shell Marine)

Published Jun 15, 2018 5:04 PM by Dr. Sara Lawrence

The choice of cylinder oil is typically determined by three factors: the marine engine itself; the fuel being used; and the vessel’s operating conditions. Given this, the limitation of sulfur content to 0.5 percent in marine fuel from 2020 by the International Maritime Organization will have a significant impact on cylinder oil selection.

Shell Marine’s expectation is that 90 percent or more of the shipping fleet will switch to fuels with a sulfur content of less than 0.5 percent in the run up to January 2020. This will be a mixture of very low sulfur fuel oil (VLSFO) and distillate fuels.

We believe that fewer than 2,000 ships will be fitted with scrubbers and no more than 200 ships will be running on LNG by that date. Combined, no more than 10 percent of ships will be accounted for by HSHFO, LNG or any other alternative. Our expectation is that up to three million barrels per day of HSFO demand will be displaced by fuels with less than 0.5 percent sulfur content.

The Shell Marine two-stroke product portfolio is largely in place. However, the post-2020 scenario poses different challenges for slow speed cylinder oils to the ones OEMs have been focusing on over recent years, where BN80-BN100 oils have been needed to defend newer engines against cold corrosion under part-load conditions burning higher sulfur fuels. 0.5 percent sulfur fuel use will drive demand towards lower BN oils.  

Shell Alexia S3 – the BN25 cylinder oil developed for use in Emissions Control Areas – has already proved itself in service as well suited for fuels of 0.1 percent sulfur content in the two-stroke application. However, Shell Marine’s expectation is that significant demand for BN40 and BN70 grade cylinder oils will come into play. Shell Marine has a new BN40 product under field trial, for launch in 2019.

Shell Marine also recently upgraded its four-stroke Shell Gadinia and Shell Argina crankcase oils to be "2020 ready." The new oils have been optimized to deal with the faster viscosity increase and BN depletion experienced by oils in modern medium speed engines,

Shell Marine does expect LNG to establish a presence in the market in the years ahead, and its Shell Alexia S3 (for two-stroke) and Mysella (for four-stroke) products already offer a solution. We also expect HSFO prices to drop after shipping turns en masse to lower sulfur fuel, which may entice some owners to take a second look at scrubber ROI. We expect 30 percent of the market could be using scrubbers by 2025-2030, which is likely to see demand recover for higher BN lubricants, although their use may then drop off if new environmental legislation restricts use of scrubbers.

Dr. Sara Lawrence is the global technical manager for Shell Marine.

The opinions expressed herein are the author's and not necessarily those of The Maritime Executive.