Covering lubricant options for a post-2020 world

Sara Larence
Sara Larence
Shell Marine

24 August 2018


A great deal of coverage has been given to the availability or otherwise of different fuel types after 2020. Much less thought seems to have been given to how the lubrication of marine engines will be affected and what practical steps need to be taken by shipowners and operators. Shell Marine’s post-2020 cylinder oil expectations are based on a defined position on marine fuel use after the IMO’s cap on sulphur content comes into play.

The choice of cylinder oil is typically determined by three factors: the marine engine itself; the fuel being used; and the vessel’s operating conditions. Given this, the limitation of sulphur content to 0.5% in marine fuel from 2020 by the International Maritime Organization will have a significant impact on cylinder oil selection.

Shipowners should by now be some way to determining what their reaction to the new situation will be, although many seem to be still in the process of defining a plan or are waiting for the situation to crystalise. Shell Marine’s expectation is that 90% or more of the shipping fleet will switch to fuels with a sulphur level of <0.5% in the run up to January 2020. This will be a mixture of very low sulphur fuel oil (VLSFO) and distillate fuels.

We believe that fewer than 2,000 ships will be fitted with scrubbers to continue running on HSFO by that date and that, with a high-end estimate of 200 ships running on LNG, combined no more than 10% of ships will be accounted for by HSHFO, LNG or any other alternative. Our expectation is that up to 3 million b/d of HSFO demand will be displaced by <0.5% sulphur content fuels.

All lubricant makers will have their own view of what scenarios might exist after the 1 January 2020 and will doubtless be preparing to match their lubricants with their own visions.

The Shell Marine 2-stroke product portfolio is largely in place. However, the post-2020 scenario poses different challenges for slow speed cylinder oils to the ones OEMs have been focusing on over recent years, where BN80-BN100 oils have been needed to defend newer engines against cold corrosion under part-load conditions burning higher sulphur fuels. 0.5% S Fuel use will drive demand towards lower BN oils.

Shell Alexia S3 – the BN25 cylinder oil developed for use in Emissions Control Areas – has already proved itself in service as well suited for lubricants of 0.1% sulphur content in the 2-stroke application. However, Shell Marine’s expectation is that significant demand for BN40 and BN70 grade cylinder oils will come into play. Shell Marine has a new BN40 product under field trial, for launch in 2019.

Shell Marine also recently upgraded its four-stroke Shell Gadinia and Shell Argina crankcase oils to be ‘2020 ready’. The new oils have been optimised to deal with the faster viscosity increase and BN depletion experienced by oils in modern medium speed engines, which work at pressures between 10-17% higher than their predecessors and oil temperatures approaching 300 degrees at the top crown.

A noticeable development in recent years is the development of dual-fuel two-stroke engines. For a long time, dual-fuel technology was the preserve of the four-stroke engine, but both of the two main two-stroke engine makers now have dual-fuel versions commercially available. Dual-fuel two-stroke engines have found customers from across different sectors with container ships, bulk carriers and tankers all hiving been built or ordered with such engines.

Shell Marine does expect LNG to establish a presence in the market in the years ahead, and its Shell Alexia S3 oil offers the solution for two-stroke engines, while our Mysella range already provides the answer in the four-stroke sector. We also expect HSFO prices to drop after shipping turns en masse to lower sulphur fuel, which may entice some owners to look afresh at scrubber ROI. We expect 30% of the market could be using scrubbers by 2025-2030, which is likely to see demand recover for higher BN lubricants, although their use may then drop off if new environmental legislation restricts use of scrubbers.

One challenge - variable fuel quality – is not an uncommon problem today, but with the variety of new fuels and blended fuels in the post-2020 world is likely to become even more of a problem. While not directly a lubricants issue, this will demand scrutiny of lubricant performance, backed by the ship to shore connectivity and analytics that has recently become a feature of Shell LubeMonitor. Shipowners that have not made significant use of lube oil monitoring may eb well advised to consider its use especially in the early days after the 2020 deadline arrives.

Even owners grappling with the cost of EEDI/MRV/CO2/2020 and ballast water management will concede that one lesson learned from engine cold corrosion has been that saving on cylinder oil technical services can prove a false economy.•