Interview by Mike Schuler – Gianluca Marucci is Global Director of Technical Services at Castrol, a leading global supplier of marine lubricants. With less than a month to go before the IMO 2020 .5% sulphur cap, Castrol’s global technical services teams stand ready to provide a range of 2020-compatible lubricants and technical support at over 800 ports worldwide to help shipowners and operators comply with the new rules. By working closely with customers, Gianluca has had his finger closely on the pulse of the shipping industry’s preparation for the new regulations, the challenges facing ship owners and operators, and things the industry can do better prepare itself for even greater challenges going forward.
How do you see the marine lubricants market being impacted by IMO 2020?
It’s heavily impacted. The decisions that operators are going to have to make are more complex in 2020. They have different ways to comply (example: scrubbers, low sulphur fuel, alternative fuel, etc.) and depending on which way they go, there is a different product to match their decision. In addition to this, there’s also some, what we call, “known unknowns”. This refers to things that we know are going to happen, but we may not fully understand the impact of them because we are not yet there. Right we are less one month to going live with the legislation, but until we get there we will not know. So it is definitely going to be a more complex environment for all operators.
The other thing is that operators will need to look at how they operate their engines in a more holistic way. It’s not just the fuel, it’s the lubricants, and also the way they are operating their engines.
What are the engineering risks associated with switching to Very Low Sulphur Fuel Oil (VLSFO)?
In theory, there shouldn’t really be any risks, that is as long as the compliant fuel is as per specifications. The risks might be two-fold, however. One is around the different types of compliant fuel that is available to the market. For example, there might be blended fuels, low sulphur fuel but heavy fuel in terms of viscosity. So the fuel type availability is going to be very diverse, especially in the beginning, so there’s a risk related to the compatibility of these fuels.
The other is around really matching the right lubricant with the right fuel. We’ve been talking with a lot of our operators and their main focus is on fuel, but it’s not just the fuels, you need to match the right lubricant with the right fuel to avoid any issues with the engine, as well. But in theory, if you do things right and you use the right fuel and couple that with the right lubricant, the two of them will be very intrinsically linked and there shouldn’t be any major risks.
So it sounds like it falls on operators to make sure the right fuel is sourced and used with the right lubricants?
It’s not just the operators. For example, on our side, we’ve been working for many, many years on the new product range. But not only that, but we’ve also been talking and engaging with our customers. I lead the technical support team for Castrol’s marine business and we’ve been spending the last 18 months visiting with customers and explaining how they need to prepare. For example, making sure to choose the right lubricant depending on which compliance decision they’ve made. So there has been a lot of work that has been done in preparation for this.
Another element I can think of is also technical support. As the operators move into 2020, what is very important is to start monitoring the engines very closely. There are means to do that which allows the operators to really understand what the engine is doing. We have a lot of expertise on this as we’ve been doing this for years and years. At Castrol, we like to provide a kind of consultancy service. So, it’s not just passing over a piece of paper with numbers, but really giving the interpretation of those numbers and explaining to our customers what they should do.
As they move into 2020, it should be fundamental to do that because they need to find a new balancing point, or new normal as we like to call it. What is the ideal new feed rate for a two-stroke engine when operating with VLSFO and the 40 Base Number (BN)? Nobody knows yet. Once we get there, we will work with the customer to help them find what is the optimal feed rate.
From a lubricants perspective, what do you see as the biggest challenge to IMO 2020?
From a lubricants perspective, the challenge is the fact that with sulphur going to 0.5, the engine is going to operate in a very different way, for both the two- and four-stroke side.
Do you think the hysteria surrounding IMO 2020 is overblown?
This is one of the major changes for the industry for a long time. I’ve been in this industry for 20 years and I remember 2020 being very far away, but now it’s happening. So this is, indeed, a major change in the industry. From my experience and what I’ve seen from talking to customers over the last months and years, customers are preparing for that, everyone in the industry is preparing for that. We are preparing our footprint so that the new products are available where the customers need it.
Is there a main lesson you would like to get across as we approach the IMO 2020 deadline?
I think that if there’s a lesson from all of this, it’s that companies need to collaborate more. Operators, us as suppliers, engine manufacturers, etc. Also, we believe that 2020 is not the end, it’s the beginning. We think that changes are going to happen at pace after 2020. There’ll be other changes in the legislation as well. We are in an industry where things have been very stable for a long time, but IMO 2020 is not the final change. There’s still a number of changes that are happening at pace going forward. But overall, I think customers are getting ready for next January 1.
If there’s a main takeaway, I think calling on the industry to have a collaborative approach to 2020 and beyond is very important. These changes are happening at pace, so if all of us can work more collaboratively, we can get ready and prepare for these challenges ahead of us. That’s really what I’d like to stress.
More about Castrol’s IMO 2020 offerings can be found at: https://www.castrol.com/en_gb/united-kingdom/home/marine/castrol-marine-2020.html