V-TIC Insight: The Rise of Additive Companies to Meet the VLSFO Challenge

by Ananth Srinivasan, Vice President, V-TIC
Friday January 24, 2020

As new fuels appear in the market to meet the fuel regulations set forth by the International Maritime Organization (IMO), customers are quickly learning that the new residual fuels act differently than the old Heavy Fuel Oils (HFOs).

The new <0.5% sulfur fuels are typically VLSFOs (Very Low Sulfur Fuel Oils) rather than heavy distillates that contain no residual component.  Unlike HFOs, which typically had two to three blend components and were all similar, VLSFOs can be created using various blends of six to seven or more different components - not all fuels necessarily contain all of the possible components.  This in-turn means that the chemistry around VLSFOs are different than HFOs and that even the chemistry of VLSFOs can radically differ from one fuel to another.

Historically, other than stability improvers and ignition improvers, there was little need for additives in the HFOs.  However, customers around the world are seeing that, even if they were using additives designed for HFOs, the needs of these new fuels are very different and hence they are rushing to collaborate with additive companies to develop or modify the additives for this next generation of fuels.  It looks like additives are going to play a much more prominent role in delivering fit for purpose new IMO 2020 compliant fuels than they ever did in the high sulfur HFOs.

At V-TIC Services, we have had the opportunity to work with several suppliers and additive companies in 2019 as they worked on new solutions for 2020. While working with these parties, we realized there was an opportunity to share some of our lessons learned with the broader community.

  • The older, established additives that worked with HFOs may not provide the required level of trouble-free operation protection with VLSFOs.
  • In our experience, the teams that worked with the additive companies to develop a solution together were usually the ones to succeed.
  • While choosing additive companies, it is important to develop an understanding of their technical approach. More importantly, ask to see data where their additives have worked on VLSFOs. As my statistics teacher used to say, "In God we trust, all others bring data!" Don't hesitate to ask these additive companies to show their success on the new 2020 fuels.
  • A particular additive company might have a great solution for one problem (for example pour point) but may not have the best solution for other issues (stability, lubricity etc). It is important for your technical teams to get an understanding of the different solutions out there and then choose the best technical and commercial solutions for your needs.
  • When choosing an additive company, it is important to look at the whole value proposition  - if the additive works on the particular property of the VLSFO in question, if the additive is available in the area, if the additive company has dosage capabilities, if the commercial proposal is competitive etc.
  • Ensure that the data that you get from these additive companies are from independent labs. For example, many Testing and Inspection companies also have their own additive companies. In an ideal world, performance results of the additives from these additive companies should be from other independent labs and not from their own companies.
  • Additive companies' sales teams often talk about chemistry or molecules. However, at the end of the day, what matters is if the additive solves your problem, is available, and is priced right. Don't let complex names or buzz words get in the way of robust science.
  • Partner with your additive companies and testing labs to come up with solutions to the newer problems these new fuels pose. For example, we have seen newer problems like oxidation stability and higher TSPs that are now being tackled by additive companies. This in turn allows fuel suppliers to look at a larger variety of blend stocks to help develop the most cost-effective fuel formulations for their customers.

At V-TIC, we are currently working with a variety of suppliers helping them qualify additives for their low sulfur IMO 2020 compliant fuels. These sometimes involve detailed Project Management services that involves testing different additives, measuring specific KPIs performance of these different additive companies, and then helping suppliers choose the right solution. As the fuels are changing, so too are customer strategies to deal with these new scenarios.