Identifying Chemical Contaminants in Marine Fuels


We all know that Marine fuels are tested at Viswa Lab in order to check the fuel quality against its specifications (ISO 8217).  Though most fuels meet the ISO 8217 specifications, they do create machinery problems.  These trouble creators in fuels can be spotted out by a series of additional tests as proposed and performed by Viswa Lab.  These additional tests are a sure shot defence mechanism to protect your machinery against potential damage by the use of bad fuel. One such additional test is the GC-MS test.  If you are wondering what could be GC-MS test, then this write-up is all you need to read.

GC-MS stands for Gas Chromatography & Mass Spectrometry.

Let us now see the working principle of the GC-MS instrument.

How GC-MS Instrument Works?

We all know that a fuel sample is a mixture of hydrocarbons and other fractions with a complex structure and composition.  As we heat up the fuel, lighter fractions which are volatile, separate out from the heavier fractions.  These vapour fractions separate out due to differences in their chemical properties and composition.  They travel  from the chromatograph column (a part of GC/MS instrument) to the MS (Mass Spectrometry) section, where it acts as the detector.  These separated fragments as they flow into the MS section get ionized and form a fragmentation pattern.  Every fuel and its composition vary. Thus the fragmentation pattern for a given fuel sample is unique and therefore acts as a tell-tale to show up any abnormalities in the fuel.  These fragment patterns are so specific that it is often referred to as the molecular fingerprint.  In short, the GC component acts as a separator that separates chemical mixtures, and the MS component identifies the component at a molecular level.


How Viswa Lab Employs GC-MS for Testing Bunker Fuels?

The GCMS instrument and the tests can be used as an analytical tool to quantify the chemical components present in the bunker fuels.  The tests are usually done as per ASTM 7845 – Standard Test Method for Determination of Chemical Species in Marine Fuel Oil by Multidimensional Gas Chromatography – Mass Spectrometry.

By this time, we are sure and you are convinced that marine fuels do have chemical wastes present and they do cause machinery damage and failures.  Problems are including but not limited to:

  1. Filters getting clogged frequently,
  2. Purifiers suffering from excess sludge,
  3. Fuel pump seizures and failures,
  4. Fuel Injector failures,
  5. Piston ring breakage and many more!

Viswa Lab has witnessed cases where:

  1. High amounts of Styrene, Indene and DCPD – cause excess sludge generation in purifiers and seizure of fuel pumps.  They have the property to generate gummy deposits and can choke filters/purifiers.  These chemicals have high hydrophilicity which aids the formation of gummy deposits.
  2. High amounts of Phenol has resulted in fuel becoming acidic where purifier disc stacks, fuel pump elements suffered acidic corrosion and subsequent failures.
  3. Presence of organic chlorides has resulted in serious machinery damages.
  4. Presence of long straight chain alkanes (such as wax and polyethylene) can cause in filter choking problems and subsequent loss of propulsion or power.

GCMS technique is a sensitive and robust method for the detection and quantification of such chemical contaminants present in the marine fuels.


Viswa Lab Has the Solution!

When your vessel suffers from a problem in using the fuel, do not hesitate to contact Viswa Lab to get the fuel tested. All they need is just a 750 ml of representative bunker fuel sample to establish a strong defence mechanism against machinery problems.

Viswa Lab developed various methods and state-of-the-art approach for quantitative & qualitative measurement of various chemical contaminants in the bunker fuels. Viswa Lab carries out a basic GC-MS screening which is a qualitative analysis, which screens for 9 chemical contaminants. If the test results prove positive for chemical contaminants, then an extended GC-MS CRA (Comprehensive Analysis) will be carried out to quantify the exact quantity of chemicals present in the fuel. Based on these tests, a successful solution for safe use of chemically contaminated fuel is offered in time.

Have a fuel problem – write to the Fuel Problem Support Team – [email protected]

We thank Viswa Lab for sharing such insightful write-up with us. Have questions; do not hesitate to contact us.

Image Credits: Perlin Elmer, Dunnivant & Ginsbach


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