Op-Ed: Marine lubricants role in decarbonizationWritten by
While alternative fuels may be the marine industry’s current area of focus, it must not be forgotten that fuels and marine lubricants are intrinsically linked, says Dr. Cassandra Higham, Global Marine and Energy Marketing Manager at Castrol.
As alternative marine fuels emerge, it is essential that the role of lubricants is not overlooked. Any change to either fuel or lubricant—be it in terms of supply, specification or type—could have a knock-on effect on the other, potentially impacting crew safety, engine health, and vessel emissions.
As the regulatory landscape evolves and the maritime sector transitions towards a lower carbon future, alternative fuels can offer the industry a route to compliance and large emissions reductions. However, incremental vessel and engine efficiency gains, achieved through proper maintenance and lubrication, are critical to alternative fuels properly achieving their decarbonization potential.
The decarbonization of the marine industry also needs to be achieved alongside other priorities. Looking at crew safety, a top priority for any shipowner or operator, the right choice of lubricant coupled with well-maintained engine equipment can help minimize the risk of accidents and critical engine issues at sea by ensuring all equipment is in good condition.
Looking at engine health, marine engines are valuable yet vulnerable assets. Costing millions of dollars, these pieces of hardware and their reliable and safe operation can be the difference between profit or loss to every commercially trading vessel traveling the world’s oceans. The effective use of marine lubricants, as well as condition monitoring and oil analysis, can help to protect these expensive engine assets by keeping all equipment in good condition and identifying any minor problems before they become critical. This can help minimize loss of earnings and financial inconveniences for operators.
If shipowners and operators are to improve the efficiency of their ships, as outlined by regulations such as the International Maritime Organization’s Carbon Intensity Indicator (CII) rating system, optimizing engine performance will be critical. Appropriate lubrication and equipment working as intended, can maximize engine efficiency, minimize fuel use, and reduce a ship’s emissions.
It is especially important that marine lubricants, as well as condition monitoring and oil analysis, are given due attention at this time of rapid change. The expanding fuel mix adds complexity and new challenges for the marine industry including, for example, the often-unknowing use of off-specification fuels.
A 2022 research paper titled “Testing Times” by Lloyd’s Register and Thetius, estimates that more than 1 million metric tonnes of off-specification or non-compliant fuels are detected each year, costing ship operators between $27,000-$50,000 per incident.
Fuel testing is being cited as one means of protection against bad bunkers. However, in addition to this, the careful monitoring of lubricants also holds the potential to reduce damage to assets that could result in downtime, loss of earnings, and operators being stuck with high costs of repair.
Lubricant providers such as Castrol are helping solve some of the challenges faced by the marine industry in their transition to decarbonization. Using both digital technology, such as digital monitoring, predictive maintenance, and remote data analysis; alongside human intelligence, expertise and experience—Castrol is providing services that support shipowners and operators to support their decarbonization agenda, regardless of which technology or fuel they use. Castrol recently collaborated closely with MAN Energy Solutions on its Cyltech 40 XDC cylinder oil, which can be used for ships operating on LNG and methanol, as well as conventional fuels. The cylinder oil achieved Category II Status from MAN ES in July 2022 after extensive field testing.
The bottom line is, if the fuel is considered a ship’s energy source, the lubricant can be considered its blood, providing essential evidence as to the current health and condition of the engine and critical machinery. In this era of multi-tiered, complex and evolving regulations, increased focus on health and safety, mounting demand for reduced downtime, costly part failures; lubricants should be viewed as a lever of change and a service, and not purely as a commodity.