Most of the large container ships, dry-bulk carriers, and tankers in the world involved in moving manufactured goods (such as cars, toys, clothes, and other consumer goods) and bulk commodities (including crude oil, grains, coal, minerals, and iron ore) across the globe depend upon a fuel which doesn't get much love or respect - residual fuel oil.
Heavy residual fuel oils are the "scraps" at the refinery dinner table. Those fuel "scraps" ensure huge cargo ships can keep world trade humming.
|Marine Fuel Oil Moves |
Bulk Global Trade.
Petroleum refined products such as gasoline, diesel, and jet fuels have more value in the marketplace for refiners. Increasing environmental regulations also bring added incentives for refiners to produce cleaner, lighter, refined fuels.
Because of the relatively low price of heavy fuel oil compared to refined fuel products, heavy residual fuel is the desirable lower-cost fuel choice for most large ships. A huge amount of fuel is consumed by these ships. Residual fuel is less expensive than refined fuels like diesel, which makes bunker fuel is the most economically rational choice. A single container cargo ship can consume between 50 to 350 tons of fuel a day, depending upon ship size and speed. For a large ship, a single long voyage can cost over $1 million dollars in bunker fuel. Fuel usage is often the single biggest voyage expense for a ship owner or operator, often as high as 50-75% of total costs. Ship owners and operators must factor-in the price of marine bunker fuel to calculate the hopeful profitability of a voyage.
Number 5 fuel oil is also described as Bunker B, and is often blended with lighter fuel oil to improve viscosity and flow properties.
Number 6 fuel oil is the true 100% "resid" fuel - - it is the material left after all the other more valuable cuts of crude oil have been refined out of the barrel, and is also called Bunker C, Residual Fuel Oil (RFO), Heavy Fuel Oil (HFO), and Marine Fuel Oil (MFO). Number 6 fuel oil is more viscous and has relatively poor flow properties.
While produced at oil refineries, residual fuels are considered "unrefined". Residual fuels tend to be loaded with unwanted crude oil components the refiners remove from the lighter cuts. As a consequence, heavy fuel oils are higher in sulfur compounds and metals content. There is increasing regulatory pressure, through the establishment of Emission Control Area (ECA) zones and other initiatives, to reduce sulfur levels, greenhouse gas emissions, and other contaminants in heavy residual fuels. The shipping industry is looking at various options to address the need for lower sulfur emission standards, for example, by looking at on-board scrubber units, blended bunker fuels, and alternative fuels.
Ship owners and operators must also be vigilant to the risk of contaminated and adulterated marine bunker fuel oil where, by accident or design, illegal or harmful materials are blended into bunker fuel oil before taken on-board the ship. Harmful bunker fuel blend additives include dry cleaning fluids, styrene, and other chemical waste products. Contaminated bunker fuel can cause serious engine, safety, and environmental compliance problems. If a bad bunker fuel has to be "debunkered" (removed) from the ship, delays and other problems can directly impact the bottom line.
What is the future for heavy fuel oil?
Many market and regulatory factors affect the supply and demand for HFO. Refiners adopt new technologies and processes to produce less residual fuels and make more refined products, reducing HFO supply over time. Ship designers attempt to produce new vessels with greater fuel efficiency, reducing demand. "Slow Steaming" practices allow ships to be more efficient with their fuel, though at the cost of longer sailing times.
Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) is becoming a significant alternative marine fuel, and new large ship builds scheduled for construction are often incorporating 'duel fuel' engine systems to take advantage of LNG in the future. LNG tankers already use LNG as their fuel of choice, along with a growing number of ferry boats and other vessels which operate in local waters, which ensures they have on-demand access to LNG.
However, given the need for a global fueling infrastructure (the marine fuel needs to be where the big ships sail), and the fact that MFO can drop in price as demand drops thus increasing its attractiveness to users, it would appear that marine fuel oil will still have many years of large-scale usage ahead.
|Profitable voyages depend|
upon bunker fuel quality.
Intertek services support the entire bunker fuel supply chain, from testing and inspection of crude oil feedstocks and refining QC, to bulk storage, distribution, custody transfer, and final use by ship operators.
Refinery services provided by Intertek play a key role in supporting refining processes, and help refiners achieve optimal refined product and residual heavy fuel oil production.