Shell Marine Prepares for More Cylinder Oil Uncertainties


The technical, commercial and regulatory variables in play when considering a ship owner’s optimum cylinder oil supply solution continue to rise. Shell Marine Global Technical Manager, Dr Sara Lawrence, offers a perspective for 2018.

New two-stroke and four-stroke cylinder oils, a state-of-the-art blending facility in Singapore, additional delivery ports and new technical services saw Shell Marine complete a strong year in 2017.

Sustaining the mood into 2018 is MILES (Marine Integrated Lubrication and Expert Solutions), an initiative that combines purchasing options, services and an extensive range of lubricant products in a multi-faceted strategy for customers to address their most pressing operational concerns. It includes new and different delivery options and a coherent response to digital disruption in the maritime sector. 

MILES not only takes full advantage of digitalisation; it is a proposition which addresses the challenges faced by shipowners today, from regulators, new engine technology, new fuels and efficiency pressures as well as providing optimal volumes/port liftings recommendations. It can also be evolved to offer entire lubrication management for a vessel, combining stock levels and demand planning that includes operating profile and even “flexi pay” schemes.

Insight into MILES is given by Shell’s Marine Global Technical Manager, Dr Sara Lawrence, whose perspective focuses on the technology behind Shell Marine’s lubricant products and the technical services developed to support them in the field. In this context, she explains MILES as “a way of better understanding what creates value for the customer that Shell Marine can address through end-to-end integrated solutions”.  

Dr Lawrence sees MILES as acknowledging the significance shipping customers attach to the price of lubrication without losing sight of value for money. “There is tangible added value if the product is ‘better’ in the sense that the time between overhaul for engine components increases,” she observes. “The incremental costs between two lubricants is insignificant against the total cost of ownership of a marine engine.”

Over the last decade, cylinder oils have needed to address numerous industry ‘pain points’, due to an unusual combination of environmental and commercial pressures. In terms of lubricant selection, the industry’s move towards slow steaming to save fuel and regulatory restrictions on emissions pose different challenges for cylinder oils.

As one consequence, Dr Lawrence has been intimately involved in Shell Marine’s development of higher BN cylinder oils to address the susceptibilities of the most modern, high-efficiency engines to cold corrosion under the part-load operations required for slow steaming. She has also worked with the R&D team in the development of lower BN oils for marine use, in response to the need to run two-stroke marine engines on 0.1% sulphur content fuels in Emissions Control Areas.

Coming into 2017, the Shell Alexia two-stroke cylinder oil portfolio covered fuel types from LNG to HSHFO, operating regimes from full load to slow steaming, and engines of all ages. It extended from Alexia S3 – a 25BN oil for ECAs, Alexia S4 (BN 60) and Alexia 50 (BN 70) to the 100BN Shell Alexia S6 which was developed to perform with HSHFO in conditions where oils are under extreme stress.

In 2017, Shell Marine formally introduced Shell Alexia 140, whose high 140 BN delivers even more protection1 for modern engines against cold corrosion and can be mixed with lower BN oils to adjust base number as vessels move in and out of ECAs. Shell Marine has secured a No Objection Letter (NOL) for use from MAN Diesel & Turbo, which also used the product as its first test oil for ‘ACOM’ – Automated Cylinder Oil Mixing; Shell Alexia 140 has also been successfully used with Maersk Fluid Technology’s ‘blend-on-board’ technology.

The approach of the 2020 IMO global 0.5% cap on marine fuel sulphur content means that cylinder oil optimisation to deal with changing fuel composition continues. Post 2020, both LNG and HSHFO will “have a place”, Lawrence says, but owner decisions taken to date suggest low sulphur fuels as the shipping industry’s mainstay fuel. This means that, while the two-stroke product portfolio is largely in place, a new BN40 product is under field trial, for launch in early 2019. “We anticipate significant volumes of higher BN cylinder oils being replaced by BN40 or BN70 grades,” she says.

Shell Marine also upgraded its four-stroke crankcase oils in 2017 to be “2020 ready”, says Lawrence, under the Shell Gadinia and Argina brands. The new oils have been optimised to deal with the faster viscosity increase and BN depletion experienced by oils in modern medium speed engines, which work at pressures between 10-17% higher than their predecessors and oil temperatures approaching 300 degrees at the top crown.

Lawrence says that the approaching 2020 deadline will also add impetus to the uptake of cylinder oil monitoring, testing and analysis services. She notes that, in the two-stroke segment, deliveries of Shell Alexia products can be combined with the Shell Lube Monitor service.

“Results of our own testing and from our customers show that reductions in feed rates can be achieved with an overall cost reduction to customers.” An excellent example of this is the close collaboration with Oskar Wehr, where by using the Shell Lube Monitor service, the owner cut its cylinder oil costs by reducing the oil feed rate by 0.2 g/KWh in each of 25 vessels, whilst still complying with the equipment manufacturer’s feed rate recommendations.

Shell estimates that up to 3 million b/d of HSFO demand will be displaced by 0.5% sulphur content fuel. This will create challenges as it is anticipated that a large percentage of these fuels will be blended or hybrid fuels which are very different in characteristics to current fuel oil. There is some experience of such fuels in ECA zones (0.1% Sulphur) but in those cases, fuel purchasers can limit their supply sources to guarantee product consistency.

Dr Lawrence points out that, once sulphur capping ‘goes global’, managing bunkered fuels from different locations will need to be carefully managed, as the same sulphur content will not guarantee the same quality.   

“Shell Marine has been concentrating on developing its technical services for a world where there is much more uncertainty and the likelihood is that the quality of fuel will vary,” Dr Lawrence says. Better monitoring of lubricant performance for engines in service, for example, backed by advanced technology to communicate data from ship to shore improves decision-making when it comes to lubricants logistics.

“I fully understand that there might be hesitation over spending more on technical services, given that for some it is still all about survival, while owners have EEDI/MRV/CO2/2020 and ballast water to contend with, and falling crew competency thrown into the mix. But, increasingly, investing in cylinder oil technical services should be considered in the context of the consequences of putting it off or avoiding it altogether.”

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed herein are the author’s and not necessarily those of Mfame or its associates.

X is a – and a member of / or works for —-. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

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