The quest for greener shipping has seen well-publicised impacts on the commercial marine industry.
Marine lubricant manufacturers are going back to the drawing board to adapt to environmental legislation.
SFME discovers the industry leaders have stepped up to the challenge and are delivering just what the industry ordered.
The quest for greener shipping has had several bold and well-publicised impacts on the commercial marine industry.
The shift away and phasing out of single hull tankers to reduce the likelihood of direct oil and chemical contamination in the world's oceans is the best known attempt by the maritime community to take steps towards reducing its environmental impact.
As the media and public at large have become increasingly knowledgeable and concerned about carbon and sulphur emissions into the atmosphere the industry's attempts to reduce its carbon footprint and sulphur oxide output have been welcomed and well covered.
These developments are widely regarded as positive and responsible steps towards maintaining and preserving the environment around us all.
However, as the new low sulphur emissions rules come into force, especially in the littoral and metropolitan shipping centres in Europe, and in conjunction with Marpol Annex IV this development poses a new challenge to the lubricants which grease the pistons that drive the maritime business.
The environmental legislation, which is gaining in popularity around the globe, seeks to reduce the sulphur content belched into the atmosphere by ships in exhaust emissions.
However, the overwhelming majority of the world's fleet of container, dry bulk and tanker ship propulsion systems rely on the power generated from two-stroke diesel engines, which rely on that sulphur content to serve a necessary function.
"Sulphur in marine fuels, while environmentally objectionable, serves to etch the surface of the cylinder liner chemically when the fuel is burned at a proper rate in a mechanically sound engine," says Ronald Oyer, DNV Peteroleum Services.
The etching process provides minute porosity in the cylinder liner surface, a function essential for proper lubrication between the piston shaft and cylinder.
The extent of the etching is controlled by a balanced relationship between the lubricant's alkalinity, quantified and measured by Base Number or BN, and the sulphuric content of the fuel being burned.
Most engine manufacturers in the past recommended that when burning fuel with 3-5% sulphur content a lubricant of 70 BN would allow for an acceptable level of acidity for controlled corrosion (etching), as well as a suitable depletion rate of the lubricant additive package, which reduces the build-up of harmful deposits.
Today 3-5% sulphur content in fuels is considered high, and in many of the controlled sulphur oxide emission zones the limit imposed is less than 1.5%.
This has sent the leading lubricant manufacturers back to the drawing board to develop lubes which maintain the properties and performance achieved with the higher sulphur fuels.
"Studies have shown that extended periods of operation on very low sulphur fuels, coupled with traditional 70 BN cylinder lubricants may cause controlled corrosion to diminish and deposits to accumulate in the ring pack areas, as well as on the piston crown," says Oyer.
A build-up of hard deposits on the piston crown increases the wear and scuffing of the cylinder liner, while ring groove deposits restrict the movement of the piston rings, both of which contribute to shortening the life of the engine.
In order to achieve the desired lubrication and use low-sulphur bunkers the leading lube manufacturers have shown themselves equal to the task.
"With the advent of sulphur oxide emission control areas, manufacturers have stepped up to the plate with lubes in the 40-50 BN range, viewed by some as relief in the form of a Ã¢â‚¬Ëœmechanic in a can,'" adds Oyer.
One such example has been delivered by Total Lubmarine, which last year launched new cylinder oil suitable for use with all engines running on heavy bunkers, irrespective of sulphur content.
Until recently engine manufacturers have recommended using different engine lubricants depending on the specific sulphur content of the fuel the engine is burning.
Broadly speaking this involved using BN 40 oils up to a sulphur limit of 1.5 - 2%, rising to BN 70 on sulphur limits up to 4.5 - 5%.
This meant managing two qualities of lubricant to complement the fuel being used by the vessel. Moreover, it made the process of switching fuels complex and critical, not least in terms of engine safety.
"The development of Talusia Universal means all two-stroke engines running on heavy fuels with a sulphur content between 0.5 and 4% need use only one lubricant," explains Patrick Havil, marketing manager at Lubmarine.
Uniquely it performs equally well whether the engine is running constantly on medium-sulphur fuel oil or alternating between high and low-sulphur oils.
The formula of Talusia Universal has been engineered to prevent excess deposits when engines are running on low-sulphur fuel.
When running on medium or high-sulphur fuel, the specific additives present enhance the speed and efficiency of the lubricant while neutralising the acidity formed during the combustion process of heavy fuel.
"Crucially, there is no risk of engine damage from a mismatch between BN 40 and BN 70 cylinder oils and fuel sulphur content," says Havil.
Also, because there is only one single supply stock cylinder oil to manage the need to provide additional crew training is eliminated.
With the difficulties of meeting the requirements of Marpol Annex IV and an ever-widening sphere of emissions restricted zones being met, environmental attentions have also been tuned to the deck lubricants that can find their way to the sea.
It is estimated that over 30 million gallons of oil is leaked from ships during normal operations in ports and harbours every single year.
"The management and control of marine pollution is steadily assuming a higher priority for ship operators."
To put that figure into perspective, that's more than three times the Exxon Valdez oil spill. Machinery failure and human error remain the major contributing factors.
"This illustrates how important it is to guard against even the smallest spillages," says David Gilmour, sales director, Castrol Marine Lubricants.
"The management and control of marine pollution is steadily assuming a higher priority for ship operators as governments and official bodies focus increasingly on environmental infringements and threaten personnel with criminal prosecution," he adds.
The industry naturally has a responsibility to take a proactive approach to avoid damaging the marine environment during operations.
Environmental pressures are coming not just from legislation, but also increasingly from shipping customers who wish to openly and honestly demonstrate to their green credentials.
"In that sense, green business is good business," says Gilmour.
The reality is that oil leakage can occur even on well maintained ships.
To reduce the negative environmental impact of such accidental spills Castrol Marine has developed a range of environmentally friendly hydraulic, stern tube and gear oils and greases for equipment where there is a risk of leakage.
"The Greendeck lubricants are 100 times less toxic and 100% more biodegradable than conventional mineral oils, while not compromising on performance," claims David Gunaseelan, product manager at Castrol Marine.
The lubricants are made from between 30 and 80% renewable sources, yet still meet all relevant technical specifications.
The biodegradable oils are priced at a premium to traditional marine lubricants because synthetic oils are more expensive to produce.
However, Castrol Marine believes that in providing shipping lines with the opportunity to go green, many will be happy to pay the price.
"The Greendeck product range is not just meeting our aspirations as a responsible operator, it is responding to an authentic customer need," says Frederic Baudry, CEO, Castrol Marine Lubricants.
Proving your business is ecologically sound is rapidly becoming a necessity for the sea freight sector, with ever more public attention lavished on both good and poor performers.
In meeting these high ecological expectations firms must strike a realistic balance between efficient and profitable operations, whilst taking every realistic step to reduce the negative environmental impacts associated with commercial shipping.
The leading lubricant manufacturers have been responsive to the demands of the 21st Century, and all that remains is for shipping firms to prove their commitment by adopting the greenest products the market has provided.
Total-Lubmarine has seen a significant increase in sales across the region over the last few years, and in terms of local business we've definitely seen an increase in our market share.
This growth has been solid and region-wide. For Iranian shipping lines we find we can reach our customers through Fujairah and our products are represented at all of the major ports and terminals throughout the Gulf.
This is particularly true of the VLCC sector where activity has steadily been increasing for several years.
The business growth has certainly in part been driven by a steep increase in crude and petrochemical product shipping.
In particular the growth of the LNG sector has presented rapidly emerging markets to the lubricant sector.
This growth has presented challenges to Lubmarine, predominantly on a logistical front.
The lubricant additives are shipped to the Middle East for Europe and the US, and then combined with the base product at our blending plant in Dubai's Jebel Ali Free Zone.
Ensuring sufficient quantities of the additive reach Jebel Ali in time to meet the market demand is crucial, as is guaranteeing that the finished article reaches all of the terminals in the Lubmarine network, which is extensive across the region and covers 10 main ports in the UAE alone.