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Iain White, global marketing manager, marine fuels & lubricants, ExxonMobil

Shipowners ‘at a crossroad’ as they face complex operating conditions: ExxonMobil

Shipowners and operators are now “at a crossroad” as they face stricter fuel regulations by the IMO and a more complex operating environment due to the use of different fuels.

Tighter IMO regulations aimed at bringing down harmful emissions from ships burning high-sulphur bunker fuel have led to owners scrambling for alternative fuel options and turning to abatement technology for solutions.

“But there is no one solution for shipowners; it will be a multi-fuel role in the future,” Iain White, global marketing manager, marine fuels & lubricants, ExxonMobil, told Seatrade Maritime News.

“All the different options will be assessed by different owners and they will have to choose one that they consider the most cost effective,” White said.

He pointed out that the clean gas LNG will become a very important part of the future fuel mix but it will not be the silver bullet solution. The global use of LNG as fuel still requires massive infrastructure built-up at major connecting ports, sufficient supplies by oil producers, and retrofittings of different types of vessels, not to mention the absence of a global regulatory standard on LNG fuel propulsion.

“Shipowners are at a crossroad,” White said, explaining that owners face the challenge of needing to secure different types of fuels depending on varied vessel operations.

Some ships may spend more time in Emission Control Areas (ECA) which require fuel with a maximum sulphur content limit of 0.1%, while some ships may only need to meet the global sulphur content cap of 3.5%. Owners can also consider the installation of scrubbers and decide if this abatement technology is cost efficient in the long run.

“The more complex situation of today is no longer as simple like in the past where owners only need to look to the oil producers to supply what they need,” White observed.

He added that IMO regulations in place such as the fuel sulphur content cap, the EEDI (Energy Efficiency Design Index) for determining the amount of carbon dioxide emitted from ships, and the Tier III emission limit for nitrogen oxide emissions have led to complexity in engine requirements and thus impacting operating conditions within the engine cylinders’ machinery.

These emissions and efficiency-based regulations mean that different specifications of cylinder oils need to be designed for specific operating conditions and fuel types are matched with ship fuel and engine operating requirements, adding on to the challenge.

The next big regulatory change is undoubtedly the 2020 or 2025 global cap on fuel sulphur content to 0.5%, subject to a review in 2018. The IMO’s MEPC (Marine Environment Protection Committee) is expected to give a clearer guidance in October this year on whether the regulation will come into force in 2020 or 2015, ahead of the 2018 timeline.

“If the decision is 2020, it will be a big challenge for the shipping industry. If it is 2025 then it would be more manageable,” White said.

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