ExxonMobil Interview: Shipowners Say they Don't Need 0.50%S for IMO2020, They Need the Right 0.50%S

Monday April 15, 2019

With a wide range of fuels expected on the market to meet the demands of next year's 0.50% sulfur cap, ExxonMobil says its decision to focus on quality assurance as part of a wider, holistic IMO 2020 offering for its customers is already starting to pay dividends.

"I recently sat down with a customer's IMO2020 team in Singapore and it highlighted how the sentiment of the industry is changing. They said to me, we don't need 0.50%S bunkers for IMO2020, what we need are the right 0.50% sulfur bunkers," Luca Volta, ExxonMobil's Marine Fuels Venture Manager, told Ship & Bunker.

"This was quite revealing. It shows the work we have done to highlight and manage the potential challenges of 0.50%S fuel such as the tangible steps we've taken to ensure stability and compatibility; to ensure low cat fines; the combustion properties; testing for wax formation - these are all things now coming to the top of customers' minds and with our technology we can respond to them."

Regular readers will know ExxonMobil has been advising customers to buy bunkers against the latest ISO8217 specification for several years now, but Volta says this will be particularly important for 2020.

ISO 8217 specifications have been in place for two years now, and with no new revision coming before the new cap comes into force, Volta says buyers also need to check exactly which grades they are buying the new fuels against.

"For example, in the latest spec, ISO8217:2017, cold flow properties have added requirements: the residual and distillate grades have max limits for pour point, but the distillates now have also a reporting requirement for cloud point and cold filter plugging point," he says.

"Specifically for distillate fuels, these cold flow properties become important in terms of how the chief engineer onboard needs to understand his fuels and take certain required handling steps, because the characteristics of some of these new fuels may lead to filter clogging at certain operating temperatures. At a minimum, this will mean additional maintenance. In the extreme, once a filter is clogged, this may have unforeseen consequences, up to fuel starvation."

Volta says all ExxonMobil's fuels are produced to the latest 2017 specification, and most importantly, tests are made to ensure they meet Clause 5 - i.e. they are fit for purpose.

As previously reported on Ship & Bunker, ExxonMobil is also taking steps to increase its direct bunker sales volumes in an effort to retain greater control over the quality of its products throughout the supply chain.

"What I say is, quality of fuel matters today, and even more so in 2020. So it's a very conscious choice we've made and it's a choice we believe provides the required level of protection for our customers," he says.

"And what is important for a shipowner? It's the reliability of the service they provide. So when we talk to our customers we say: Ask all of your suppliers what they are doing to give you the peace of mind that you require."

Trust

The idea that shipowners may start to favour fuels from specific suppliers for 2020 was raised when Ship & Bunker spoke to Volta at SIBCON last year. The main focus at that time was on ExxonMobil being the only major supplier to announce their 0.50% fuels will be compatible with each other globally - a situation that remains the case today.

Now, he is keen to stress the company's IMO 2020 quality assurance (and differentiation) efforts go beyond its oil products and extend to its services too.

"We leverage technology to formulate the 0.50%S complaint fuels and our lubricants around the world. This starts at the refinery and is reflected in the investments we have made such as those in Antwerp and most recently in Singapore," Volta says.

"But this technology and investment also extends to the services we are providing for IMO2020, such as the XRF system we offer as part of the Mobil Serv Cylinder Condition Monitoring (CCM) service that moves away from wet chemistry for sulfur testing.

"What we say is, technology is at the core of all what we do, from the crude to the end customer."

Historically, bunker deals typically get done based on a combination of price and personal relationships, and only time will tell how many buyers change their habits to favour more sophisticated offerings for their bunkers in 2020.

But if nothing else, ExxonMobil's recent positioning is another sign that many in the industry are expecting the bunker markets in 2020 to be quite different from today.