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Bunker contamination: The importance of timely GC-MS results

29 Jun 2019

About the Author:

Bryan Quek Sze Wei, who has worked in laboratories for more than 10 years, is today the Bunker Business Unit Manager of Eurofins Singapore, part of an international group of laboratories headquartered in Brussels providing testing and support services to the marine, environmental, agricultural, food industries and government sectors today.

Quek is currently responsible for driving improvements across the APAC portfolio of Eurofins Singapore. He has held a range of positions across the chemicals, oil & gas and environmental sectors, working in technical, operational, commercial and general management roles.

The issue of marine fuel contamination and its negative effects on vessel operations, together with its detection and avoidance, is among the biggest concerns of all ship owning and operating firms today.

Though widely reported, the exact origin and scale of contaminated bunker fuel remains largely unknown. The closest we have got to the truth were suspicions of the first source of contamination originating from the U.S. Gulf coast region in early 2018.

Nevertheless, 2018 was the year Gas Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry (GC-MS), a process used to detect and identify different substances within a test sample, arguably took centre stage.

To date, GC-MS is by far the most reliable method of detecting and measuring chemical compounds at minute levels in marine fuel.

Use of GC-MS, together with the standard test method ASTM D7845 and its modified extension methods, are able to reveal the presence of fatty acids (carboxylic acids), phenolics and chlorinated containing compounds which could pose a threat to marine ship engines. Some of the contaminated fuels are difficult to detect because they pass industry standards but contain compounds that are not usually tested for.

Eurofins Mechem continues to be among the few laboratories equipped with GC-MS equipment, and the only accredited laboratory for method ASTM D7845 currently in Singapore. Additionally, we are able to produce definitive results of GC-MS testing with a turnaround time of between 6 to 12 hours from the time samples reach one of our internationally accredited laboratories.

The short turnaround time has further allowed us to develop the Eurofins Pre-Bunker Report service to ensure the fuel quality designated for a specific vessel is confirmed and known prior to bunkering.

A pre-bunker analysis simply involves the collection of representative samples from the bunker tanker’s cargo tanks, with tests completed before delivery.

This allows stakeholders (the bunker supplier, ship owner or operator) to make an informed decision whether or not to accept fuel cargo before they are supplied.

The total time taken for the Eurofins Pre-Bunker Report service is a maximum of 12 hours for receiving a full evaluation, regardless of what tests or assessments of fuel quality conducted on the sample.

A clear and concise reporting of fuel testing results, summarised as “GO” or “NO GO” for bunkering to take place, is presented at the end of results – simplifying and reducing the risk of costly engine damage and resource intensive debunkering operations.

Industry players are expecting exposure to fuel contamination to only increase post IMO 2020, when the increased usage and blending of new fuels take place. We believe the same, and expect contaminated marine fuels to be one of the biggest challenges facing the bunkering industry moving forward.

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