Environmentally Acceptable Lubricants: New Technology to Protect the Ocean

The shipping industry is well on its way to becoming greener. However, being aware of global environmental regulations, let alone knowing how to be compliant, can be challenging for even the most seasoned ship owner.

Earlier this year, US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), issued the 2013 Vessel General Permit (VGP), and part of it regulates the use of lubricants onboard vessels traveling through US waters. With this step, the EPA has been the first to introduce legislation on marine lubricants.

The VGP requirements, which come into force on 19 December 2013, indicate that all vessels over 79 feet entering within three miles of the US coast must use an environmentally acceptable lubricant (EAL) in all oil-to-sea interfaces, unless it is technically unfeasible.

According to the EPA, one liter of mineral lubricant pollutes 1,000,000 liters of seawater and with more than 100,000 vessels in the global fleet; even minimal oil leakages can lead to critical environmental challenges. The environmental impact of these leakages are not going unnoticed and it’s a leap forward to see that legislation to control this is now being introduced. The International Maritime Organization’s Maritime Safety Committee for ships has also issued similar guidelines for ships wanting to travel through polar waters.

While frequent, low-volume operational discharges may not cause the concern or problems associated with major oil spills, Environmental Research Consulting estimates that the total annual cost for lubricating oil lost or discharged in the world’s 4,708 ports during vessel operation is around US$322 million. Therefore, this is a problem not only for the environment but also for operators that are trying to pull through an unstable economy and run cost-efficient operations.

Marine lubricants provider TOTAL Lubmarine recently launched an online virtual vessel, a user-friendly, and visual way to gain an appreciation for the different parts of a vessel that will require these environmentally-friendly lubricants. The animated graphic also makes it easy to match each part with a corresponding lubricant.

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Several main areas of a vessel, such as propeller shafts and stern tubes, regularly suffer from leakages that can remain undetected for long periods of time.  TOTAL Lubmarine notes that their EALs are largely ester-based, making them more durable and less toxic than mineral lubricants, as well as being biodegradable, non-toxic and non-bioaccumulative.

For example, TOTAL claims their Bioneptan, a biodegradable stern tube lubricant manufactured with synthetic ester base oils, enables almost four fifths of the oil to return to its original carbon and water state within 28 days.

As shipping continues to evolve into a more sustainable industry, lubricant providers must take greater responsibility to ensure that shipowners and operators are aware of the steps needed to comply with legislation. It is crucial that they continue to work closely with both original equipment manufacturers and customers to develop solutions that help minimize financial loss, enhance performance and do their part to make the industry greener.