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Monitoring and benchmarking fuel quality for improved performance

Monitoring and benchmarking fuel quality for improved performance
Monitoring operations and managing cost are more important than ever given the extreme financial challenges facing the global shipping industry.

Lower revenues, more regulations, tighter operating budgets, and ever increasing requirements from customers have become daily concerns for ship owners and operators. While ensuring reliable operations and containing costs is not a new issue for the shipping industry, the current economic climate makes it essential for survival.

Shipowners and ship operators have been looking at every aspect of vessel operating costs trying to find areas to trim cost and improve performance. Unfortunately, it is seldom as simple as just finding a lower price for supplies and services. To optimise the value of a bunker purchase for instance, there is a need to be able to choose and use fuel that provides the most value for money.

The truly effective owners and operators are able to analyze their operations and understand what is impacting vessel performance and cost. They are able to identify and quantify what is causing similar vessels to have different costs and performance, and able to benchmark their performance to their peers or the shipping industry in general.

Managing fleet performance at this level has historically been a challenge for the shipping industry because of the constant variation in environmental and operational conditions from day to day and from vessel to vessel. Today’s technology allows owners and operators to measure, and track a tremendous amount of data about route, weather, vessel condition, and vessel operation. When this data is combined with an effective fleet performance management system, they can gain tremendous insight about the performance and efficiency of a vessel or entire fleet.

This analysis can help identify and quantify core elements of vessel operations including; voyage operations, hull and propeller condition, and engine and system performance. However, to get a complete picture of engine performance the fleet performance systems needs to incorporate detailed information about the quality of the fuel provided onboard the vessel and ultimately feed to the engine. Fuel quality has an impact on fuel consumption, bunker cost, and degradation of engine parts.

Fuel quality can impact fuel consumption in a number of ways. First differences between the stated density and actual density of the fuel can lead to overstated fuel consumption, and also overstated fuel invoices. Since fuel is most often measured in volume (i.e. cubic meters) yet reported in mass (i.e. metric tons), knowing the accurate density is critical to performing accurate calculations and paying for the actual fuel received. Veritas Petroleum Services (VPS) tests more bunker deliveries than any other lab, and we quantify the density difference trends around the globe. Since 1981, VPS has gathered an enormous amount of data on bunker fuel and is therefore able to track trends and benchmark the quality and performance of fuel supplied at different ports, thereby offering value for money on a global scale. This data helps bunker buyers identify the best ports and even the best suppliers within a port to mitigate the risk of density shortages.

bunkerThe chart shows the average density and average density difference for distillate fuel delivered by country in South Asia for calendar year 2015. In this example, the trend in Malaysia is to overstate density and under deliver quantity by 1.7% which is much higher than the trends in other ports.

Other fuel qualities like energy content, sediment levels, and combustion quality will have an impact on the quantity of fuel needed by the vessel’s engine to produce the required power. The variation in fuel quality over time or throughout the fleet can lead to meaningful variance in measured performance. Identifying and quantifying these variances are important in understanding performance. Furthermore, benchmarking your fleet performance to the industry will provide clues on possible improvement opportunities and help drive better fuel purchasing decisions.

An example is the average energy content of RMG 380 delivered in the Baltic ECA region during calendar 2015. Latvia had the highest average energy content with 41.79 mj/kg, while Lithuania had the lowest average energy content at 40.421 mj/kg. While the difference may not seem large, the fuel in Latvia has 3% more energy content than Lithuania and vessels bunkering this fuel would be expected to show better energy efficiency.

Since varying fuel quality will significantly impact vessel performance, proactive operators that continually benchmark their performance to the industry will gain a competitive advantage. These two benchmarking charts to the right are from the new Fuel Analytics solution that is now available in DNV GL’s ECO Insight as a result of the ongoing close cooperation between VPS and DNV GL.

This is invaluable benchmarking based on the most extensive fuel quality and market trends database in the world. Owners and operators now have the power incorporate the latest and best fuel quality knowledge into their fleet performance management systems. 

Contributed by Michael McNamara md, Americas at Veritas Petroleum Services. Email: [email protected]