“It used to be refinery feedstock, but now it’s being used as a finished product,” commented Iain White, Field Marketing Manager for ExxonMobil Marine Fuels & Lubricants in reference to his company’s ultra-low sulfur HDME 50 marine bunker fuel.
ExxonMobil is introducing this new fuel to the commercial shipping sector following successful tsts were carried out on board Wallenius Wilhelmsen’s ships..
With extremely tight limits on sulfur emissions regulations coming into force next year, ship owners are left with three primary options – burn ultra-low sulfur fuel, switch to LNG, or install an emissions scrubber. Considering the significant capital expense incurred on the latter two options, ultra-low sulfur fuel (ULSF) is being used extensively, but it has its own challenges particularly with regard to temperature.
When sailing into an ECA, such as the one off California for example, ships switch from burning heavy fuel oil to ultra-low sulfur distillate fuel. In doing so, the fuel system is required to deal with a huge temperature switch as heavy fuel oil is delivered to the engines at around 135 to 140 deg C and distillate is unheated.
White notes that switching fuels has to be done very carefully as a result of this temperature difference. “Records show that 30 to 40 ships per year on average have lost propulsion off California as a result of thermal shock from improper fuel switching procedures.” He hopes his company’s HDME 50 is the answer to this problem, particularly in the European ECA.
HDME 50 is not a distillate fuel, but shares some of the best properties of both distillate fuel and HFO.
Like HFO, it needs to be heated in order for it to work, has high lubricity and lower volatility which makes for safer operations, but at the same time, it burns extremely clean like distillate fuel. Because it’s heated, there’s also no issue when it comes to thermal shock.
Will this new HDME 50 fuel be available globally?
“Not in the immediate future,” notes White. The ExxonMobil refinery in Antwerp is the only facility globally that is producing it. However, Antwerp also happens to be firmly planted in the European ECA, the major source of demand for such a product.