With the latest generation engines designed for use with renewable fuels, how will lube oil manufacturers adapt?

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April 8, 2021

Jean-Philippe Roman, Project Manager at Total Lubmarine, shares his insight and explains how the energy major is ahead of the curve with its recently requalified TALUSIA UNIVERSAL single cylinder oil, and how the business is leading technically advanced engine lubrication solutions that are helping optimize engines of the future.

Fourteen months in to IMO 2020 and we are already seeing how the transition is shaping a cleaner industry. New internal combustion engines (ICEs) that are readily available across the shipping industry are being designed to match the targets on GHG emissions from the international shipping sector according to the IMO goals:

  • reduce carbon intensity of 40% by 2030, and of 70% by 2050
  • reduce GHG emissions of 50% by 2050

What about the current engines operating in today’s ocean-going vessels? Lubrication is needed to ensure their smooth and efficient performance. Advancements in the chemistry of lubes ensures engines can run cleaner and are optimized for better performance. However, any adaptation of an engine lubricant is influenced by two parameters both of which are aimed at minimizing GHG emissions and to reduce fuel consumption:

  • the increase of the constraints in engine operation, e.g. increase of peak pressure, increase of temperature, and the recirculation of exhaust gases.
  • the diversity of the fuels available at the point of purchase, existing or renewables, and the way to use them in marine engines.

The first, and often more demanded adaptation, is related to existing engines. Whether they are diesel or dual-fuel engines running with either liquid fuels or LNG, these engines can accumulate deposits. An example of this is underlined by the 2-stroke engine manufacturers. Since the introduction of the IMO 2020 regulation change on fuels, there is an imbalance between the low BN lube oils in use and the need for detergency to maintain clean engines. So, the first action for the lubricant supplier is to adapt to this situation. This is what we have been doing with our own lubricants range.

Our work continues on new alternatives to help further improve engine performance and cleanliness, but more importantly to move the baseline to a higher level as required by the improvements of ICE technologies.

The second approach, which in my opinion is the priority across industry, is linked to the alternative fuels that are, or will soon take-up, on the market. The importance of this is shown by a huge number of projects gathering all the stakeholders together, from the technical specialists to the regulators, including the ship operators, at a level often above the shipping sector itself. 

Engine technologies dedicated to these alternative fuels are in fast development, and by 2030 we estimate there will be many commercial applications of oxygenated fuels like methanol or ethanol, as well as mixtures of conventional fuel oils with biofuels. We will also begin to see engines running on ‘no-carbon’ fuels such as ammonia and hydrogen.

Existing lube oils have been designed to achieve the reliability of engines running on conventional high and low sulfur fuel oils, so it is reasonable to expect increased research and development into lubes that will handle alternative fuels of the future. Even though the alternative fuels market is not yet at a level of maturity to accept the economic change that sparks the scaling-up of technology improvements, we all must anticipate the demand and be ready to propose sustainable solutions in engine lubrication that will most likely be flexible enough to run on several types of fuels. Our work in this area with TALUSIA UNIVERSAL is just one example of how we have created a single cylinder oil for multiple fuel use, including LNG with OEM endorsement from MAN ES and recently WinGD

Total Lubmarine experts are always focused on identifying performance issues relating to the fuel and lubricants used by each ship operator in their engines. We assess their chemical nature and base assessments on the engine operating condition reported by the engine manufacturer, and we work closely with the OEMs on all elements of lubricant development and options by sharing insight and knowledge on our product chemistry, engine inspections and recommendations. Our product chemists address performance issues through the formulation and chemistry of the lubricant.

This process is complex because the lubricant has a critical role to play in achieving engine cleanliness in all conditions. And, our approach applies to any engine design (with any OEM) and to any engine technology (diesel or dual-fuel) – engine lubricants must handle the potential issues related to each fuel mix available to the operator, and they must also provide a level of qualification in the reliability of the emission treatment systems that are coupled to the engine. 

All the solutions highlighted have to be tested, selected and validated in operation, which is a significant challenge when considering that those vessels using the very latest technologies and new fuels are also providing a ‘test-bed’ for industry as an early adopter.

To achieve the planned goals of 2030 and beyond, we all have a responsibility to work in cooperation with various stakeholders in a project. The collective mindset of all the lubricant manufacturers including our own, is set on the ambition to develop viable technologies and to test it at scale. As an industry, we must also look to change our paradigm and thinking. Lubricants are not just for a unique fuel type – the conventional fuel oils of the market – but for engines of various technologies, flexible enough to run on many different fuel types, from the ‘here and now’ solution of LNG to the future fuels such as biofuels, synthetic fuels, ammonia, or on mixtures and combinations of these fuels that at the end of the day, aim to match the IMO targets on GHG emissions of vessels running internal combustion engines. TALUSIA UNIVERSAL is an example of this where we have created a single cylinder oil for multiple fuel use, including LNG. 

In terms of lubricant formulation, we will begin to see many more new advanced chemistries enter the market, such as low or no-ash components. As an example of this approach, we have pioneered this strategy with TALUSIA OPTIMA – a product that uses Ash Free Neutralizing Molecules. This is a unique and patented technology that provides fast and effective acid neutralisation without mineral deposit build-up from the most demanding two-stroke engines. This revolutionary lubricant was developed through intensive R&D at our renowned Solaize Research Center. Looking to the future, I believe every one of us has a part to play in the transition to a cleaner, better performing industry. It is a period in our time which represents incredible evolution through innovation and advancement, and it’s exciting. At Total Lubmarine, we are confident tomorrow’s developments in marine lubricant chemistries will provide even better solutions for OEMs and operators – and not just on the lead up to 2030!

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