Inside the shipping team-up that helped manage the shift to very low sulphur fuel oil (VLSFO)

(VLSFO): Collaborative Solutions for Meeting Shipping Regulations

We are heading into a more complex world for shipping, where operators worldwide are navigating an evolving landscape of regulations and technological advancements. As a result, collaboration is increasingly proving to be the key to innovation and developing solutions that can help shipping players meet the speed of the industry.

It was a joint effort that made it much easier for shipping operators to manage the shift to very low-sulfur fuel oil (VLSFO). Marcus Schaerer, General Manager Services and Technical at Shell Marine, explains how their team worked closely with MAN Energy Solutions (MAN ES) to create Shell Alexia 40 XC, an innovative solution that would not only help the industry meet the International Maritime Organization’s 0.5% sulphur cap in 2020, but also make operations more efficient.

Tell us about the collaboration. What was the challenge you took on together?

We have a long history of working closely with MAN ES. We’ve collaborated on a range of solutions, especially those related to new, more efficient engine designs.
Most recently, though, our mission was to develop a new Category II BN40 cylinder oil to overcome the engine deposits caused by using VLSFO in low-speed two-stroke engines. Addressing this was a significant challenge for operators, which is why innovation was sorely needed in this area.

LNG Outlook, UK, 2023

Why have engine deposits proven to be so problematic for shipping operators?

Original equipment manufacturers (OEM) have introduced new engine designs that run on VLSFO and ultra-low sulphur fuel oil (ULSFO), which helps to reduce a vessel’s emissions. However, operators using these new designs discovered that the heat and pressure they generated was creating deposits on the engine’s power unit.
These deposits can make the engine run less efficiently – and could even cause breakdowns. It highlights the need for effective lubrication to improve cleanliness and reliability, but previously, there was no ideal solution to the problem. Higher base number (BN100) cylinder oils improved cleanliness and reliability, while lower base number (BN40) lubricants promoted engine performance (despite not properly addressing the deposits).
This led crews to adopt the inefficient practice of switching between the two. So, in 2019, MAN ES put out the call for a BN40 product that could deliver the performance of a BN100 product to deliver the best of both worlds, minimise deposits across the engine, and avoid the need for lubricant switching.

What made it challenging to develop such a solution?

This is an interesting question. There’s no doubt that COVID-19 posed a major challenge, and it wasn’t easy to find ships suitable for testing, which meant excellent cooperation throughout the value chain was vital if we were to find a solution to such a complex technical issue. Additionally, it was a new territory for the industry. To simply lower the base number of a lubricant, you’d have to reduce the number of additives by around 50–60%. This makes the cylinder oil incredibly lean, making it difficult to deliver the same performance.

How did you make the development of this product possible?

Essentially, we were co-engineering a solution together. And that meant we needed to be in constant dialogue. Alongside meeting with the MAN ES team regularly to share progress on the prototyping of new lubricants, we worked with them to find the right engine for testing in our lab at the Shell Marine Power & Innovation Centre (MPIC).
In general, the results of the collaboration have been amazing. The strong partnership between Shell and MAN ES is based on a good strategic alliance between the two companies.

To put this in context, usually we’d meet with their team every six months for higher-level updates. Here, we built a much closer relationship that saw us sharing more information and feedback with them than we normally would – and they were doing the same.
Our collaboration meant we were part of establishing their new categories of cylinder oils. Also, they were refining the validation process as we worked on the formulation, which they didn’t finish until September 2021. We needed to develop a solution that met their specifications, but how they validated that depended on the direction our development process took us. It was something of a chicken and egg scenario, and they were able to resolve that based on their learnings from our co-engineering process.

What was the result of the collaboration? Was it ultimately possible to develop a Category II BN40 cylinder oil?

Yes, it was possible. The result of our collaboration is Shell Alexia 40 XC, a brand-new Category II cylinder oil designed for low-speed, two-stroke marine engines using low-sulphur fuels. It’s a BN40 product that’s 30% cleaner than Category I BN40 cylinder oils while offering the same cleanliness as Category II BN100 products.1,2 This means it can minimise deposits, control wear and prolong component life – all while improving the efficiency of onboard operations by removing the need to switch between BN40 and BN100 products.
Working so closely with MAN ES at each step along the way means that Shell Alexia 40 XC has not only met the required specifications but has also received a full No Objection Letter from the manufacturer. We’re immensely proud of this achievement.

Is there a lubrication best practice that you recommend?

After working with MAN ES to create Shell Alexia 40 XC, we recommend our customers to monitor its performance on real-world vessels through our Shell LubeMonitor service – making sure the lubricant and the engines are performing as they should.
The platform offers several features that include enhanced fleet and vessel insights, a step- by-step guide for onboard engineers to standardise the inspection process, and a comprehensive engine inspection feature that allows for the inclusion of recorded measurements of piston ring clearance, piston ring coating, liner wear, and more. Additionally, the platform provides technical advice and recommendations from Shell experts.

We are constantly listening to customer feedback to keep evolving. Recently, Nikos Fotopoulos, Ship Superintendent at Thenamaris LNG Inc., mentioned that Shell LubeMonitor has given them an extra level of reassurance that cylinder lubrication on their fleet engines remains at optimal rate, by continuous monitoring of essential cylinder oil parameters and allowing them to timely intervene and prevent engine failures, minimising running costs.

What can Greek shipping leaders learn from the development of Shell Alexia 40 XC?

Complex challenges often call for collaboration. So, it’s no surprise that we see more and more companies joining forces to tackle today’s challenges, from developing new decarbonisation solutions to creating demand and addressing regulatory changes. I think the key is close collaboration at every stage of a project, from development to testing to application.

Back to top button