Today, the choice of fuel for a ship will be made for a variety of reasons. Availability and suitability are factors but the main reasons will be a combination of price and ensuring compliance with increasingly stringent regulations.

When Rudolf Diesel first began developing the engine that would bear his name his choice of fuel was in fact peanut oil. Despite the early attempt to introduce what would today be called a biofuel, most of Diesel’s customers preferred to use mineral oil because of its low price and more reliable combustion. Early diesel powered ships ran on much lighter fuels than the heavy fuel oils that are commonly in use today for medium to large sized vessels.

Before the advent of MARPOL Annex VI and its timetable of emission reduction rules, heavy fuel oil – perhaps even up to 700cSt – was considered to be the future, with some vessels designed to run on lighter oils being converted to take the heavier oil. Even after the welcome fall in bunker prices experienced in 2015, the use of heavy fuel oil is today an economic necessity for most operators even if some critics consider it dirty and polluting and destined to be consigned to the pages of history.

With the advent of SECAs it seemed that distillates would be the way to go but considering the premiums such fuels attract, it is little wonder that scrubbing technology seems to be gaining devotees. There has also been a concerted effort to promote LNG as the fuel of the future and there are increasing numbers of other alternatives; LPG, methanol, hydrogen as well as animal and vegetable biofuels also being suggested. On the lube front too, development is bringing about synthetic and bio-degradable products aimed at reducing reliance on mineral oils and protecting the environment.

Last year, the IMO set the date for the last of the current deadlines in fuel regulation for 2020. The reduction to an equivalent 0.5% sulphur content in fuels globally combined with today’s 0.1% in ECAs will cause a very expensive time for owners with some suggesting an extra $60Bn bill for the industry.

Within this guide ShipInsight looks at some of the issues involved in the use and development of modern fuels and lubes and how regulations are driving those developments and influencing the choice of fuels for today and for the future.