BV moves to allay sulphur-cap compliance fears

The view expressed by the bunker supplier is not one that marine equipment producer Alfa Laval recognises. Peter Leifland EVP at Alfa Laval says it has not made a forward analysis of the of the fuel market after 2020 and he told reporters in Copoenhagen on 2 March that “It is speculation what the price [of LSHFO] will be.”

Leifland went on to say, “We serve our customers irrespective of what fuel they want to run on… we are not pushing, politically for a scrubber solution, but when it comes to the specific question on the price difference we don’t know.”

In addition, Leifland says that there is a question mark over the availability of LSHFO and that there is a question over whether the oil companies will even produce the fuel, “there doesn’t seem to be many refineries that will go for it.”

The switch to LSHFO will not be straight forward, however, and Røjgaard predicts that there will be stability issues with the fuel, but that there will not be any supply difficulties

“My personal view is that there will not be a shortage because the products are there. If you look at what comes out of the refinery and what marine requires, it’s tiny,” she said. “So if there is a demand and people are willing to pay for it, that’s where it will go.”

Refiners are now blending fuel types, including low-value components, because “marine engines are very forgiving” – they will burn almost anything – so refiners will try to offload the low-value products by blending them with marine distillate fuel.

The two key components of blending that refiners need to consider are the aromatics and paraffinics. The paraffins are wax-type molecules that include sticky asphalt molecules in the fuel: if they meet, they will stick together, so it is vital that the asphalt molecules do not adhere to one another as it will cause a sticky mess in the tanks that will need to be physically scraped out.

Aromatics, on the other hand, will keep the waxy asphaltenes apart, “so getting the balance between aromatics and paraffins is very important,” Røjgaard explained. When refiners fail to get the balance between aromatics and paraffins right, that is when the fuel is described as “unstable”, she added.

Røjgaard pointed out, however, that the change to distillates will be massive as all the tanks on board ships, at the refineries, and in the tank farms where the HFO is stored will need to be cleaned ready for the LSHFO, which cannot be mixed with the current high-sulphur fuels.

“You can’t just take a heavy fuel tank and put in these new products, because [the residues] will contaminate the low-sulphur fuel. And if you have a little of those heavy fractions left in a barge, for instance, you will get high sulphur in there. You will contaminate the new product and you will no longer comply,” she said.

Stability issues can also crop up, because you can have something that may be paraffinic, but what is left in the tank is more aromatic, she added.

It is for these reasons that the move to LSHFO in 2020 is a massive undertaking for the industry when all the side effects are considered, not only the products themselves, she said.

Moreover, distillate fuel will act as a solvent, so a vessel that has operated on HFO for many years will have residue left in its tanks, in the pipes and deposits in the engine itself, and when you start to use the LSHFO, it will clean out these residues and that will be carried into the engine and burned, and this cleaning process can take some months.

The new fuels will also need to be heated so that they are maintained at temperatures above their ‘pour point’. Below the pour-point temperature, the fuel will solidify and “you will have to shovel it out of the tank”, Røjgaard warned.