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Shipping headed for a multi-fuel future, says ExxonMobil

Shipping headed for a multi-fuel future, says ExxonMobil
In a seminar entitled “Future of Marine Fuels by 2020/25” ExxonMobil noted that despite much excitement over LNG-fuelled vessels, no one fuel stood out as an obvious panacea for shipowners following the introduction of the worldwide 0.5% sulphur cap.

Set for either 2020 or 2025, depending on the results from an IMO feasibility study ExxonMobil indicated that the cap would turn refining of ship fuels on its head, likely causing major availability issues.

“There is a lot of anxiety in the shipping and refining industries,” said Eddy H. Van Bouwel, policy planning senior advisor at ExxonMobil. “What we’re looking at is a step change in the fuels needed for shipping. This means that refineries all over the world will need to look at what they will do - if refiners do want to invest in conversion capacity – cokers, hydro-cracking – they pretty much have to do it now. These units will take four or five years.”

“What we do know is that all that extra sulphur refining will require more energy usage and more CO2 emissions. None of this happens for free.”

Ian White, ExxonMobil marketing manager, gave a rundown of the various options available to shipping. “LNG is everywhere in the media but it’s not really anywhere on the ground in the industry yet.”

“We believe LNG will have a role to play in the future,” Eddy added, “it allows you to meet your sulphur requirements without any difficulties, but with the low oil prices cost is a factor. And it’s not a drop-in fuel for a ship.”

White continued: “Gas Oil [MGO] is kind of the default choice for owners because it’s widely available and well-understood, but there are a number of shortcomings, some of which are becoming more obvious. The big concern is that fuel oil operates at 130-140c, while MGO operates at ambient temperatures. This can cause problems with pumps, fuel lines and engines designed for HFO.

“Data from California shows that fuel switching [from HFO to MGO] causes a Loss of Propulsion (LOP) as much as once a week. We haven’t seen any incidents in the English Channel yet but it’s a really bad place to have an LOP.”

Speaking at another event earlier on MondayRoger Stevens, vice president, global head of environment for Wallenius Wilhelmsen Logistics said that blackouts from vessels had not been seen in the English Channel had not been seen as the industry had been "quite well prepared" for fuel switching.

ExxonMobil’s own offerings include HDME50, a highly-viscous, high-flashpoint distillate designed for use in HFO engines, and AFME 200, introduced two months ago and available from Southampton – a “cleaned up” residual fuel with a below-0.1% sulphur content and all metals removed. “It’s the cleanest residual we’ve ever produced”, said White.