Fuel Additives – What are they?


In the maritime industry, fuel additives have gained a lot of credibility in recent years.  Many operators consistently use and have gathered experience over many years, seeing significant return on investment.  But there remains a few who will not entertain the idea.  Those people probably don’t realise that every time they fill their car with fuel, there will undoubtedly be additives present.  In fact in some cases, without those additives, their vehicle wouldn’t even make it off the driveway each morning.

Generally, a fuel additive can be defined as a chemical substance or preparation, added to fuel, in concentrations typically less than 1%, to impart or enhance desirable properties, or to suppress undesirable properties.  Every refined fuel is slightly different, but each is essentially just a series of chemical components.  We know what those components are and which are good and which are not so good.  You could say, an additive aims to enhance the effect of the good, and/or mitigate the effect of the bad.  It’s just chemistry, not rocket science.  Lubricity improvers, cetane improvers, cold flow improvers, antifoulants, antioxidants and stabilisers, being just a few examples which are regularly present in diesel fuels.

Additives are embraced by the refining industry, in all manner of fuel types.  They not only allow them to meet mandatory specifications, but can also provide huge efficiency benefits to a refinery operation, and save them a lot of money.  Taking it a step further, additives are often used as a very effective differentiator.  In recent years, our fuel station forecourts have been flooded with premium or performance fuels, far exceeding mandatory limits for quality, using the benefits of the additive package as a major part of the associated performance claims.  Similarly, many additive types are seen as necessary by the vehicle OEM’s, for example to maintain Euro VI emissions legislation, deposit control additives are required to keep injectors clean.  And, some actually use them in the fundamental operational design of the vehicle.  For example, fuel borne catalysts are used within many vehicles for diesel particulate filter regeneration.

So what about marine fuels?

Marine fuels are typically of much lower quality than their automotive counterparts.  And yet, additives are very rarely applied in the supply chain.  


Well, there are many reasons, but fundamentally the marine fuel specification ISO 8217 is not mandatory, and is rather more open in terms of what is allowable.  The supply market is highly competitive with very tight margins, often where the operator doesn’t own the vessel and just wants the cheapest deal available, often without a second thought about quality. Any effort by a supplier to differentiate their fuel based on quality is typically overlooked.   The supplier has few incentives to apply an additive unless perhaps the fuel is way off specification and unmarketable.  It would be counter argued that the specification is driven by what the marine engine OEM’s say is acceptable.  Each OEM has a different stance where marine additives are concerned, some being quite open and in fact using themselves from time to time.  Others take no position at all, while some are negative.  For sure, there is a strong argument to suggest that improvements in quality will have a negative effect on the spares and service business they enjoy.

Often, fuel testing laboratories will recommend additives based on their findings, but now we are talking about aftermarket application.  And here, it is left for the ship operator to apply additives, which they have been increasingly doing for many years.  Beginning in residual fuel oils, additives such as combustion improvers, sludge dispersant stabilisers and ash modifiers are in constant use in literally thousands of vessels.  Use of distillate fuel additives have risen dramatically over recent years, the main types in use being lubricity improvers, stabilisers and cold flow improvers.  And how much does it cost? Well, less than you might think.  It depends on type and varies from supplier to supplier, but the cost is generally around $1 to $2 to treat each MT of fuel.  The reason that additives are used so widely, and by the world’s largest shipping companies, goes right back to the fundamental definition – which extrapolates to performance, economy, safety and environment.

About The Author:

Ian-Crutchley-InnospecIan began a technical apprenticeship in 1996 with diesel engine manufacturer MAN Diesel & Turbo.  Ian spent 3 years in the Design Department working predominantly on new engine design and development.  In 2002 he joined the MAN Field Support Department, specialising in on site diagnosis of operational problems and major engine failures, as well as site management for the installation and commissioning and snagging of a large overseas diesel power plant.

Ian joined Innospec Ltd. in 2008 in the role of Technical Co-ordinator – Marine Specialties. His expertise lies in his knowledge of marine fuels, marine diesel engines, vessel performance and associated ship systems.  He represented Innospec in several industry groups including ISO working group for marine fuels and the British Standards Institute technical committee for liquid fuels.  For 3 years, he also acted as secretary for the International Council on Combustion Engines (CIMAC) working group for Fuels.  In 2013 Ian assumed a more business focused role, becoming the Business Development Manager Marine, for the EMEA region. Ian continues to apply his technical competence on a daily basis by supporting the wide customer base deal with all manner of fuel related issues – from quality, commercial, application, storage and handling.

About Innospec:

Innospec Marine Specialties is the largest supplier of marine fuel treatments in the world. Their broad range of fuel oil treatment additives is designed to increase safety, optimise engine reliability, reduce engine maintenance and operating costs.  Innospec has the experience, market knowledge, understanding and technical expertise to work closely with ship owners and their managers to develop specific additive solutions.  Innospec not only have the latest technology available, their team also includes the world’s leading experts in fuel treatment for the shipping industry.  Technical sales activities on site are supported by comprehensive laboratory facilities which provide a full range of fuel oil testing capabilities. With a focus on industry partnership, product quality, expertise in research and development, application development, dosing systems and additive distribution, Innospec’s customers can expect the best fuel oil treatments available as well as unrivalled technical support and service commitment.

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