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Bunker Fuel Quality

VPS: Avoid expensive, catastrophic engine failures with GCMS screening of bunker fuel

Steve Bee, VPS Group Commercial Director, discusses how pre-burn chemical screening of bunker fuels can help prevent costly and catastrophic engine failures.

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Steve Bee, Group Commercial Director of marine fuels testing company VPS, talks on the vital importance of pre-burn chemical screening of bunker fuels in preventing catastrophic engine failures:

The past five years have given rise to numerous high-profile, chemically-contaminated marine fuel cases. Hundreds of vessels have experienced costly engine damages during these events, in Houston (2018 and 2023), Europe (2022) and also in Singapore (2022). 

In addition to these highly publicised contamination events, there have been many single cases of vessel damage across the world due to the presence of chemical contaminants within fuel. All of these cases, large or small, have shown numerous different chemical contaminants, or combinations of contaminants, which have been identified as being responsible for these damages.

To highlight the consequences of chemically contaminated marine fuel, one recent case study, illustrates perfectly the issues and expense, ship owners and operators can face, when chemicals are present within their fuel.

In April 2023, a Singaporean-owned chemical and product tanker bunkered 415 m/tons of VLSFO in Houston. The vessel began to burn the fuel in May and quickly began to experience numerous issues with the auxiliary and main engines, such as exhaust gas deviating temperatures and the wearing of fuel pumps and plunger barrels. In addition, problems such as start-failure due to insufficient fuel injection, pressure build up, as well as worn out and leaking fuel pumps.

Of greater concern was the complete engine stoppage enroute to the next US port, when the main engine failed. Multiple attempts were made to start the engine, all without success.

Subsequent VPS forensic laboratory testing, utilising a proprietary Gas Chromatography Mass Spectrometry (GCMS) Acid Extraction methodology, detected the presence of several phenols and fatty acid compounds within the fuel.

The vessel initiated the necessary repairs to both auxiliary and main engine fuel pumps, at a total spares cost of $200,000.

Following these repairs, Class and Engine Manufacturer representatives attended the vessel to assess both auxiliary and main engine performance. A sea trial was then arranged in order to gain USCG approval to berth and manoeuvre the vessel in US coastal waters.

Eventually towards the end of July the contaminated fuel was de-bunkered in Houston.

Captain Subhangshu Dutt, Managing Director of OM Maritime, said: “It seems many more fuel quality details need to be considered while bunkering nowadays in order to avoid such incidents in the future, & chemical screening can be a useful tool to raise the red flag. Prudent testing can also keep us abreast of new contaminants that can enter the bunker market. Using technology and digitalization to trace the upstream history of the fuel could be considered. A perfect world would be when rigorous & relevant testing procedures are completed before the fuel is declared “fit” to be delivered on board”.

Hindsight with this and many other cases, would see ship owners and operators, looking for a more pro-active, pre-burn means of detecting the presence of volatile contaminants within their fuel. The VPS Chemical Screening service provides such a solution and ensures a higher level of vessel protection.

Since 2018, 41% of vessels engaged in the VPS fuel testing programme, have used the numerous Gas Chromatography Mass Spectrometry (GCMS) services available to detect chemical contaminants within fuel.

Focusing specifically on the GCMS-Head Space Chemical Screening service, 19.9% of applicable marine fuel samples received by VPS since 2018, have undertaken this rapid, pre-burn protection service, with an average 8% of samples tested, giving rise to a “Caution” result, indicating the presence of at least one chemical contaminant.

VPS report GCMS-HS screening results within 24-hours of sample receipt and once a “Caution” result is identified, VPS customers can immediately place their supplier on notice, pending further investigation, avoiding restrictive time-bar agreements.

Further investigation usually begins with a GCMS-HS Extended analysis, followed by more detailed forensic GCMS analysis, if required.

However, the initial GCMS-HS chemical screening service offers great benefits and value to VPS customers, as an inexpensive, rapid detection service, prior to the fuel being burnt. To put this into context, the $200,000 cost of replacement parts highlighted in the above case study, could have provided over 3,500 GCMS-HS screening tests.

A Swedish Club report in 2018, stated the average cost of a single fuel-related damage case is $344,000. With current fuel prices at $700/mt and an average bunker stem of 1,000mt, then a single GCMS-HS screening test to check for the presence of volatile chemicals within that one fuel delivery, equates to less than 0.008% of the cost of the fuel. Yet this service would provide a much greater level of protection to the vessel and avoid the risks associated with volatile chemicals within marine fuel. Which raises a final thought-provoking question, “Can you afford not to screen your fuel for chemicals?”

Photo credit: VPS
Published: 2 November, 2023

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Fuel Testing

Singapore to enhance testing for bunker fuel quality assurance from 1 June

Taking into account recommendations from IEG, formed following a contaminated bunker fuel delivery incident in 2022, and industry feedback, enhanced testing measures will be implemented upstream.

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Singapore to enhance testing for bunker fuel quality assurance from 1 June

Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) Chief Executive Teo Eng Dih on Tuesday (20 February) said enhanced testing measures for marine fuel batches will be implemented from 1 June 2024.

Following a contaminated bunker fuel delivery incident involving more than 200 vessels in 2022, an Industry Expert Group (IEG) co-chaired by the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) and Singapore Shipping Association was formed since 2022 to study measures to strengthen quality assurance and avoid contaminated bunker fuel from being supplied in the Port of Singapore.

Globally, contaminated fuels have caused vessels to experience handling and safety issues such as loss of propulsion.

Taking into account literature reviews, past cases, IEG’s recommendations and industry feedback such as from the International Bunker Industry Association (IBIA) and International Council on Combustion Engines (CIMAC), enhanced testing measures will be implemented. 

To ensure cost effectiveness, ease of administration and system efficiencies, these measures will be implemented upstream, rather than for every delivery.

From 1 June 2024, bunker suppliers in Port of Singapore must ensure that:

  • Residual & bio-residual bunker fuel do not contain Chlorinated Organic Compounds (COC) above 50mg/kg, & free from inorganic acids. COC can be tested using the EN 14077 accredited test method, while inorganic acids can use the ASTM D664 accredited test method as prescribed in ISO 8217.
  • Distillate and bio-distillate bunker marine fuel must be free of inorganic acids which can be tested using the ASTM D664 test method as prescribed in ISO 8217.
  • Residual marine fuels are free from polystyrene, polypropylene & polymethacrylate. These can be tested for by filtration, microscopic examination, & Fourier-Transform Infrared spectroscopy analysis.

The test results for COC and inorganic acids, together with the Strong Acid Number (SAN) and Total Acid Number (TAN) will be reported in the “Certificate of Quality” (COQ) provided to receiving vessels. For the polymers, bunker suppliers must maintain test records which indicate the fuels are free of them.

“MPA will continue working with agencies and stakeholders to enhance polymer testing capabilities & establish standardised testing,” Eng added. 

For marine fuel blended using batches of different fuel or feedstock, the respective tests should be carried out after blending, and before being bunkered in the Port of Singapore, as the COQ reflects the fuel prior to loading the bunker tanker.

These enhanced testing will supplement existing instruments used in the Port of Singapore, such as mass flow meters and digital bunkering, and inform the development of standards for safe & efficient bunkering of alternative marine fuels.

As a global bunkering hub, Singapore remains committed to maintaining high quality assurance of fuels delivered, and making bunker deliveries more transparent, efficient and reduce overall business costs to better serve shipowners, charterers and ships of the world.

Manifold Times previously reported MPA issued a Port Marine Circular No 3 of 2024 regarding the implementation of enhanced testing parameters for marine fuel batches intended to be delivered as bunkers in the port of Singapore in addition to the existing quality assurance measures:

Related: Singapore: MPA tightens testing parameters to reduce contaminated bunker fuels
Related: MPA: Glencore and PetroChina supplied contaminated bunkers to about 200 ships in the Port of Singapore
Related: Singapore set to become first port in the world to debut electronic bunker delivery notes
Related: MPA Chief Executive: Port of Singapore begins digital bunkering initiative today 

 

Photo credit: Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore
Published: 21 February, 2024

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Bunker Fuel Quality

VPS: Bunker fuel quality in emergency equipment

Wolf Rehder, VPS Area Manager Germany, focuses on the critical importance of maintaining high bunker fuel quality standards for emergency equipment onboard vessels, which is often overlooked.

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Marine fuels testing company VPS on Tuesday (13 February) published an article by Wolf Rehder, VPS Area Manager Germany, emphasising the critical importance of maintaining high bunker fuel quality standards for emergency equipment onboard vessels, which is often overlooked:

Prevent emergency equipment from failing during an emergency

The lifeboats, emergency generators, and emergency fire pumps onboard are among the vital critical equipment essential for efficient, dependable, and prompt operation during onboard emergencies and across diverse climatic conditions.

Most companies and vessels have procedures in place to monitor their fuel quality. Close attention is paid to the management of fuels to be used in main and auxiliary engines, regardless of fuel-grade, as this has a direct impact on safety, health and the environment as well as on the economic operation of the vessel.

Most companies and vessels also have routines in place to regularly test emergency equipment. Nonetheless, it seems that in numerous instances, there is insufficient focus on the quality of fuel utilised in emergency equipment.

Fuel grade DMX within the ISO8217 specification is specifically intended for use within emergency equipment. However, since this is not a mandatory requirement, marine gas oil (MGO grade DMA) used for other purposes on board, is often used to fill up emergency equipment tanks. This could lead to hazardous outcomes as the DMA grade fuel might not be suitable for its intended use. The quality of the fuel in the emergency equipment tanks may also deteriorate during storage. Hence it is essential to test and ensure that the quality of the fuel being taken into the tanks is ’fit for purpose’ and monitored at regular intervals.

Impact of various parameters on the operation of the emergency equipment

Cold Flow Properties (Cloud Point and Pour Point)

Distillate fuels are predominantly paraffinic in nature and under colder temperature conditions, the paraffins can precipitate from the fuel in the form of wax. As a consequence, this wax can lead to blocked pipework and filters, leading to numerous operational issues including potentially starving the vessel engine of fuel.

Cloud Point (CP) of a distillate fuel is the temperature at which the paraffinic wax begins to separate from petroleum oil and form a cloudy appearance. This is the first indicator of cold-flow issues with a fuel.

Pour Point is the lowest temperature at which the fuel will flow, i.e., the fuel becomes solid.

Whilst the Pour Point of a distillate can be lowered using additives, the Cloud Point is not affected by such additives. This means that even when a distillate has a very low Pour Point, it’s Cloud Point could be very much higher. As the fuel temperature drops to, or below the Cloud Point, wax crystals will start to form, at which point, filter clogging could begin to take place, resulting in fuel starvation and engine stoppage. Satisfactory storage, transfer and filtration needs a fuel temperature about 3-5°C above the Cloud Point. The Cloud Point of fuels used for emergency equipment should be below the ambient temperatures at which the equipment it is operating, or likely to operate.

One real case example saw a fuel in a lifeboat engine storage tank which had a Pour Point of -33°C whilst the Cloud Point was +17°C. This fuel could only be safely used at ambient temperatures above 20°C.

The additives used can also potentially cause operational problems as some of their chemicals can be absorbed by filter materials, causing them to appear blocked. This problem is exacerbated for emergency equipment which are typically fitted with very fine filters.

Filter blockage due to high Cloud Point

Filter blockage due to high Cloud Point

Fatty Acid Methyl Esters (FAME)

Due to the practice of blending FAME into automotive diesel and heating oil, it is now more common and indeed inevitable, that some distillates supplied in the marine market contain FAME. FAME can lead to complications with respect to storage and handling in a marine environment, due to its increased level of oxidation tendency, long-term storage issues or shorter shelf life, it’s affinity to water and risk of microbial growth. Additional issues regarding FAME’s degraded low-temperature flow properties and FAME material deposition on exposed surfaces, including filter elements, also add to the fuel management concerns. Therefore, testing for the presence and levels of FAME within marine distillates, is a highly recommended practice.

Visual Appearance

Fuels grades DMA/DMZ/DMX should be bright and clear. If the fuel is hazy, it could indicate the presence of water or a high Cloud Point. Haziness could also indicate poor oxidation stability.

Sulphur Content

Vessels (including emergency equipment) required for securing the safety of a ship, or saving life at sea are exempted from the MARPOL Annex VI Regulation 3.1.1 Sulphur requirement. However, for the testing of emergency equipment in an Emissions Control Area (ECA), compliant fuel with sulphur content less than 0.10 % m/m should be used.

Fuel contamination, a potential hazard

Since fuels in the emergency equipment storage tanks remain unused for long periods of time, quality of such fuels may deteriorate due to the following:

Water can originate from contaminated fuel or condensation, and engines may not run because of water in the fuel lines. The presence of water can promote growth of microorganisms such as bacteria, yeast and fungi, and can also lead to blockage of fuel lines and filters due to icing when ambient temperature drops below 0°C.

Microorganisms (bacteria, yeast, fungi) – Given the correct conditions in fuel storage systems, micro-organisms can grow and multiply. Bacteria, fungi and yeast are living organisms which may be present in fuel storage tanks and in particular where water is allowed to build up. Distillate fuels are more prone to bacterial infection. Microbial infection can lead to slimy deposits in tank bottoms, plugging of filters, pitting corrosion on fuel tank bottoms or at oil water interface and injector fouling.

Corrosion caused by bacteria

Corrosion caused by bacteria

Gas Oil Stability – Many different chemical reactions can cause a gas oil to be unstable. Instability can lead to sedimentation and eventually to the formation of gums. Instability is usually indicated by a colour change over a period of time.

Mitigate your emergency equipment risks

It is thus obvious from the above reasons that engines, which should be the most reliable of all, may fail to operate when they are most needed.

Testing of the fuel’s cold-flow parameters, FAME content, sulphur levels, water content and microbiological activity, is highly recommended. These tests will provide vital information and knowledge of a fuel’s quality and the management requirements that go beyond adherence to imperfect specifications. These are necessary to help ship operators deal with fuels which may meet the specification numbers but give serious operational problems. 

 

Photo credit: VPS
Published: 14 February, 2024

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Fuel Testing

Singapore: MPA tightens testing parameters to reduce contaminated bunker fuels

MPA has enhanced testing parameters, which will be mandatory from 1 June, intended to be carried out at upstream supply chain for bunker fuels that will be delivered in port of Singapore.

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Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore on Thursday (8 February) issued a Port Marine Circular No 3 of 2024 regarding the implementation of enhanced testing parameters for marine fuel batches intended to be delivered as bunkers in the port of Singapore in addition to the existing quality assurance measures: 

ADOPTION OF TESTING ENHANCEMENTS FOR MARINE FUEL INTENDED TO BE DELIVERED AS BUNKERS IN THE PORT OF SINGAPORE

This circular serve to inform all bunker suppliers licensed by the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) on the implementation of enhanced testing parameters for marine fuel batches intended to be delivered as bunkers in the port of Singapore in addition to the existing quality assurance measures. These testing enhancements are intended to be carried out at the upstream supply chain for system efficiencies and cost effectiveness compared to doing so for each delivery.

Arising from the bunker contamination incident in Singapore in February 2022, where about 200 ships were supplied with High Sulfur Fuel Oil (HSFO) containing high levels of Chlorinated Organic Compounds (COC) in the Port of Singapore, an Industry Expert Group (IEG)1 co-chaired by the MPA and Singapore Shipping Association (SSA) was formed to strengthen the quality assurance of bunkers supplied in the Port of Singapore.

The IEG had provided its recommendations to MPA in mid-2023, as attached in Annex A of this circular.

Taking into account the IEG’s recommendations and industry feedback, the following testing enhancements (to be carried out upstream) would be mandatory from 1st June 2024 (in addition to existing quality assurance measures):

For all residual and bio-residual bunker marine fuel supplied in the Port of Singapore, bunker suppliers must ensure that they do not contain COC above 50mg/kg, and must be free from inorganic acids. Specifically,

  • COC must be tested for using the EN 14077 accredited test method (concentration of total organic chlorine must not exceed 50mg/kg) and shall be reported in the “Certificate of Quality” (COQ) provided to receiving vessels;
  • Inorganic acids must be tested for using ASTM D664 accredited test method as prescribed in ISO 8217 and the Strong Acid Number (SAN) (in addition to the Total Acid Number (TAN)) shall be reported in the COQ (i.e. SAN = 0) provided to receiving vessels;

For all distillate and bio-distillate bunker marine fuel supplied in the Port of Singapore, bunker suppliers must ensure that they are free from inorganic acids, which must be tested for using ASTM D664 test method as prescribed in ISO 8217 and the SAN (in addition to the TAN) shall be reported in the COQ (i.e. SAN = 0) provided to receiving vessels.

Residual marine fuels should also be free from polystyrene, polyethylene and polymethacrylate. For the general detection of these polymers, the fuel can be tested using a test method which consists of filtration, microscopic examination, and Fourier-Transform Infrared spectroscopy (FTIR) analysis to qualitatively determine if they are present in the fuel.

It is recommended that all MPA licensed bunker suppliers maintain proper test records to indicate that the current batch of bunker fuel supplied as bunkers in the port of Singapore is free from these polymers. Bunker buyers are also encouraged to consult the bunker suppliers in advance and have proper contractual agreement for the quality of fuel bunkered. MPA is working with relevant agencies and stakeholders to enhance polymer testing capabilities and establish standardised test method for these polymers in Singapore.

For marine fuel which is blended using batches of different fuel or feedstock, the tests prescribed in Para 4 must be carried out after the blending, and before being delivered as bunkers in the Port of Singapore. Blending is not permitted on board the MPA licensed bunker craft and the COQ must be of the fuel prior loading to the bunker tanker before the product is delivered as bunkers in the port of Singapore.

Please refer to Annex B for FAQs. Should you have any queries, please write to us at [email protected]

Note: The full port marine circular can be viewed, which includes Annex A and B here

 

Photo credit: Manifold Times
Published: 8 February, 2024

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