Recent VLSFO Issues Falling into 4 Separate Categories: V-TIC

by Ananth Srinivasan, Vice President, V-TIC
Friday November 8, 2019

As suppliers around the world come up with new fuels/blends to meet the 0.5% sulfur requirements, we have seen some new challenges that our fuel supplier customers are facing with these fuels and blends. Overall, we have seen a greater awareness in the community with respect to segregation and fuel quality in general. The supplier community today is more diligent than ever in ensuring that the ship owners get a quality product. However, as typically happens with new changes, there are always a few challenges.

In the last 2 weeks, we have seen 4 separate categories of issues with these new 0.5% fuels:

1. Contaminations | High Polymeric Substances

Going into 2020, we fully expected fuel quality issues to get better especially since there was so much emphasis on cleaner fuels and typically low sulfur fuels tend to have lesser problems. However, given that few refiners are making 0.5% runs, there is a lot of blending in the market and the ISO8217 spec does little to identify contaminants.

Recently, we helped a customer reduce their risk by not purchasing contaminated fuel. The fuel in question had over 40,000 ppm of Indene and Styrene which was detected by the GCMS (Gas Chromatography Mass Spectroscopy). These polymeric substances can cause substantial problems aboard a ship, like freezing of fuel pumps, and by checking the GCMS result before the fuel/blend stock purchase, the client avoided a costly claims problem. Additionally, blends that are highly contaminated like these could cause problems with contamination on Barges and other Shore Tanks etc. During the contamination scare of 2018, we added several resources to help improve the turnaround time of the GCMS results and with less than a 2 day turnaround, the client was able to use these results to take care quick actions.

Recommended Practice

Set up a process where random samples are tested for contaminations using GCMS.

2. Contaminations | High Benzene

In another instance, we noticed a fuel with high Benzene concentration. As we know, Benzene is a carcinogen and even small amounts of exposure are regulated under the IMO Marine Safety Committee Publication MSC/Circ. 1095 "Revised Minimum Safety Standards for ships carrying liquids in bulk containing Benzene."

Recommended Practice

Set up a process where random samples are tested for contaminations using GCMS. This is not needed for all samples.

3. Fuel Properties | Borderline Pour Point

A 3rd occurrence was where a VLSFO had borderline Pour Point. Since VLSFO's are created differently than traditional fuels, the Pour Point additive that the client was typically using did not work. New fuels tend to act differently than traditional fuels, and it is important to choose the additive with the right chemistry that works on these new VLSFOs.

Recommended Practice

Work with your Additive companies that have experience and proved technologies for these new generation fuels.

4. Blend Properties | Borderline Compatibility

Compatibility is one of the issues that where the most talked about and all of us expected challenges when it came to compatibility. But the problem for the industry is that the referee method is the TSP (Total Sediment Potential) and the Reproducibility of this test is 0.09 (for a TSP of 0.1). That means if your Certificate of Analysis is 0.07 and another lab tests the same sample, they can come up with a 0.15 as the TSP. By the standard, any value over 0.1 is considered offspec.

Technically, a high sediment fuel deems a fuel to be unstable. This creates a huge challenge for suppliers because one lab can show the sample as stable and another as unstable. Although this is not a new issue, the additional scrutiny for 2020 fuels might lead to some false negatives.

Recommended Practice

  1. Educate your teams on the repeatability and reproducibility limits of the TSP.
  2. Understand the issues with the accelerated TSA
  3. Work with your labs to show TSP and other alternatives to TSP (as suggested in the PAS) to better understand and show blend stability/compatibility.

In the last few years, we have worked tirelessly to help our customers reduce their technical and commercial risk. We have added resources and invested in technologies to help our clients meet the challenges for 2020. Please do not hesitate to reach out to our team if you have any questions. We love hearing from you!

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