Lean, Mean and Green

High-tech lubricants and low-sulfur fuels are making life easier for owners struggling to comply with strict new emissions protocols.

By Jack O'Connell 2013-01-04 15:41:00


MARPOL Annex VI changed everything. The new protocol regulating airborne emissions from ships signaled formal recognition by the IMO that the maritime industry bore some responsibility for the global proliferation of greenhouse gases and that it had an obligation to help reduce them. No more indiscriminate burning of heavy fuel oil to the detriment of the planet! No sir. Not unless you have an exhaust gas scrubber installed to get rid of those nasty fumes.

Annex VI took effect in May 2005 and was ratified by the U.S. three years later with an effective date of January 8, 2009 for all U.S. vessels and foreign-flag vessels over 400 gross tons operating in U.S. waters. Compliance is obtained through the issuance of an International Air Pollution Prevention Certificate (IAPPC), which certifies that a vessel meets MARPOL requirements for ozone-depleting substances, nitrogen oxides, sulfur oxides, volatile organic compounds, shipboard incineration and fuel oil quality. Separate (and more stringent) requirements apply to Emission Control Areas (ECAs), of which there are currently two – the Baltic and North Seas. A third (North America, meaning Canada and the U.S., including Alaska and Hawaii) goes into effect in August 2012. Further complicating matters are local requirements for certain EU ports and states like California, which can be tougher even than the ECAs themselves. Life isn’t easy these days for global marine operators!

Targeting NOx and SOx

Of primary concern for shipowners are emissions of nitrogen (NOx) and sulfur (SOx) oxides. From a baseline known as Tier I, Annex VI mandates that NOx emissions be reduced by 20 percent effective the first of this year (Tier II) and by a whopping 80 percent for ECAs by 2016 (Tier III). Engine makers have been quick to respond to the challenge, and marine engines meeting Tier II compliance requirements have been available for several years. Tier III is the bigger challenge, and companies like Wärtsilä and ABB Turbocharging – to name two – are working on a range of technologies which, singly or in combination, will be capable of meeting Tier III requirements. Since approximately 75 percent of the output of a diesel or gas engine is attributable to the effect of turbocharging, ABB’s developmental Power2 two-stage turbocharging system shows particular promise. The system relies on two turbochargers of different sizes working in tandem to enhance performance and reduce emissions. The other part of the power equation is valve control management (VCM), which allows variation of both valve timing and valve lift. Effective VCM can further reduce emissions and improve fuel economy.

The biggest challenge of all comes with SOx reduction. The current standard requires maximum sulfur content for fuel of 4.5 percent. That drops to 3.5 percent next year and to a proposed 0.5 percent maximum by January 1, 2020. For ECAs, the current standard is 1.0 percent with a reduction to 0.1 percent by January 1, 2015. As Ravi Mehta, Director of Business Development for Det Norske Veritas (Americas) explains, “There are three basic solutions: You can either switch to low-sulfur fuel, which entails substantially higher fuel costs and modifications to piping systems to segregate different fuels and enable fuel changeovers; install an exhaust gas scrubber, which maintains your current fuel costs – you can continue to burn heavy fuel oil – but requires available onboard installation space and a significant capital investment to purchase approved equipment; or switch to LNG fuel, which is the cleanest form of energy and can significantly lower fuel costs. LNG, however, requires a large capital investment and massive storage space onboard to accommodate the fuel tanks.” (For a fuller discussion of LNG and its possibilities, see Art Garcia’s article elsewhere in this issue.) Mehta points out that the average sulfur content in fuel in ships operating today is 2.7 percent, well within the range required by next year.

The Challenges of Low-Sulfur Fuel

Switching to low-sulfur fuel, however, has its own set of problems, not to mention its high cost and limited availability. These include so-called “bad fuel,” potential engine and fuel system damage, low viscosity, reduced lubricity and incompatibility of fuel mixtures. According to Peter Pilon, President & CEO of Kittewake Americas, a leading global provider of monitoring and testing solutions, “All of these side effects can cause a loss of power and even shutdown, as we have seen off California in recent years.” To combat low viscosity and reduced lubricity, Pilon recommends tungsten carbide-coated fuel injection pumps, or a fuel pump lubrication system. “To help keep the viscosity above the minimum specified value, installing a fuel cooler at the fuel injection pumps can keep the fuel temperature below 40oC and ensure a gradual changeover to prevent thermal shock,” he adds.

Both Pilon and DNV’s Mehta emphasize the importance of good recordkeeping and maintaining bunker samples – both of which are IMO-mandated. “Fuel samples must be retained onboard for a minimum of 12 months and until the fuel is substantially consumed,” notes Mehta, “and bunker delivery notes must be available for inspection and retained onboard for three years.” Simply collecting and storing the samples properly can be a challenge in itself. Pilon points out that “Suppliers of sampling equipment, such as Kittiwake’s Bunker Sampling Storage Systems, provide abridged versions of the IMO guidelines with instructions and advice, making it much easier for the crew to sample correctly.” Monitoring and fuel testing are also key to avoiding problems. Onboard testing, for example, provides immediate results and ensures, prior to the changeover, that the fuel will not cause problems. “Kittiwake’s sampling services and those from the likes of FOBAS and DNV provide both test results and thorough analysis,” stated Pilon. “Should problems arise, they are on hand to provide detailed technical support that is often beyond the capabilities of a hard-pressed marine superintendent.”

Vessels entering and exiting ECAs must also maintain written procedures documenting how fuel changeovers are accomplished. Changeovers often take longer than expected to accomplish – up to five hours and more – and ship captains should make proper provision for this. DNV’s Vessel Petroleum Service assists in the development of changeover procedures and endorses changeover calculations. DNV even offers an ECA Survival Kit for those who are thoroughly confused! Kittewake’s Pilon adds that, for safety reasons, any fuel switching should be completed before entering ports or ECAs. 

Optimizing Engine Performance – Marine Lubricants

Being green doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice performance. Concerned about fuel economy? Try slow steaming or variable speed propulsion to cut down on fuel consumption and maximize efficiency. The less fuel you burn, the fewer emissions you give off, and the more money you save. Today’s next-generation diesel engines are far more efficient than their predecessors, burning less fuel and doing it more cleanly. Diesel-electric propulsion is another proven method of lowering power usage and fuel consumption and, thus, emissions.

Lubricants play a major role in maximizing efficiency and reducing engine wear and tear. Castrol Marine, for example, markets a full line of biodegradable and marine lubricants designed to enhance performance, minimize engine stresses and achieve measurable cost efficiencies. Because low-sulfur fuels require lubricants with lower alkalinity or base numbers (BN), the lubricants have to complement the fuel in terms of their ability to neutralize acidic species formed during combustion. Castrol offers a range of BNs in both its TLX Plus trunk piston engine oil product line and its Cyltech crosshead engine lubricant family. These lubes are specially formulated to maintain optimum viscosity and deal with the most severe demands of highly loaded engines with low oil consumption rates, a characteristic of today’s modern engines.

All of the major oil companies offer a full line of marine lubricants. Fairfax, Virginia-based ExxonMobil recently announced the introduction of Mobilgear SHC MT 68, a fully synthetic, extreme pressure marine gear oil formulated to optimize the performance of equipment operating under extreme conditions. “Today’s marine thrusters are operating under higher temperatures and under more stress,” stated Shaara Blome, Global Marketing Manager for ExxonMobil Marine Lubricants. “Mobilgear SHC MT 68’s balanced formulation is specially engineered to meet these challenges, helping our customers optimize equipment performance, reduce oil consumption, extend oil drain intervals and reduce maintenance costs.”

Total Lubmarine’s Talusia Universal cylinder lube oil is the first to work with both high and low-sulfur heavy fuel oils, saving the shipowner the expense of changing marine lubricants when switching fuels and entering ECAs.  “One must admit that lubricants have not always been at the top of the priority list for shipowners,” observed Patrick Havil, Global Marketing Manager at Total Lubmarine. “When the North American ECA comes into force in 2012, it will affect 50 percent of maritime traffic. And the issue of which lubricant to use will be absolutely vital.”

Cleveland, Ohio-based Terresolve Technologies produces a full line of environmentally safe, readily biodegradable, non-sheening and nontoxic lubricants for the maritime industry under the brand name EnviroLogic®. The high lubricity level of Terresolve’s products reduces friction and wear, which keeps equipment operating cooler and longer. “We have maritime applications running for over nine years without a changeout of fluids,” stated Terresolve CEO Mark Miller. “By increasing overhaul interval time by even one year, a vessel can save tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of dollars.” Miller adds that Terresolve’s readily biodegradable lubes (meaning they will break down over 90 percent within 28 days) do not leave a sheen on the water if spilled, a feature that sharply reduces or even eliminates the risk that a company will have to pay the environmental fines or clean-up costs associated with a spill.

Putting It All Together

All of these products and procedures are designed to provide peace of mind to anxious shipowners and, more importantly, secure the all-important IAPP Certification for their vessels, allowing them to operate freely anywhere in the world. But sometimes it isn’t as simple as that. The interpretation and application of regulations can vary from one port to another, and from one country to another. Achieving certification in your home port is the key, and that is not always a slam dunk. At a conference in Miami last month, Paul Bates, Chief of Inspections for the U.S. Coast Guard, Sector Miami, offered good practical advice and emphasized the importance of getting to know your local OCMI (Officer in Charge of Marine Inspection). Their names can be found on the USCG’s Homeport page (homeport.uscg.mil) along with other essential information for vessel operators. Bates also encouraged operators to ask questions and appeal rulings if they did not agree with them.

In an ideal world, as DNV’s Ravi Mehta only half-facetiously pointed out, all ships would run on LNG and be ballast-free, and DNV has in fact demonstrated the feasibility of such a vessel. Until then, however, shipowners must resort to expediencies like low-sulfur fuel, exhaust gas scrubbers, next-generation diesel engines, and high-tech lubricants to meet their performance and environmental requirements. It’s not easy being lean, mean and green, but it’s well worth the effort.


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