The 5 most relevant marine fuel types

The 5 most relevant marine fuel types

On January 1st, 2020, a new regulation from the International Maritime Organization (IMO) on the amount of Sulphur fuel allowed in global shipping entered into force, introducing a restriction limit of 0.5 percent. Here is an overview of the five most relevant marine fuel types right now.

The focus on sustainable solutions within the marine industry has increased rapidly during recent years, especially due to the implementation of several IMO (International Maritime Organization) regulations. The same is true for fuel types.

Monitoring marine fuel with sensors

Regardless of the type of marine fuel, it must be controlled and maintained by sensors to ensure stable operations and discovering potential breakdown warnings and issues as early as possible. Doing so can also prevent or reduce the amount of downtime that a ship is incapable of operating. In this way, Senmatic’s high-quality sensors provide operation reliability and reduce lost working time.

Sensors from Senmatic can both monitor temperature in exhaust gas, water cooling and all types of oil. For this type of monitoring, our sensor Type B, Type S, Type PMK and Type MK are used, and they can be used for all the following types of fuel.

Temperature sensor type B

Type B

Threaded immersion thermometer with extension length & exchangeable insert 

Read more about type B
Thermocouple type MK

Type MK

Mineral insulated thermocouple - straight wire sensor with bayonet

Read more about type B
Temperature sensor type PMK

Type PMK

Mineral insulated resistance thermometer with cable

Read more about type PMK
Temperature sensor type S

Type S

Straight temperature thermometer with or without extension length

Read more about type S

1. LNG – Liquid natural gas

Liquid natural gas seems in many ways as a great choice when it comes to choosing a low Sulphur fuel, as it is below the regulatory limit and consists of clean burning properties. However, it can be both a difficult and expensive choice for many ship operators.

Some of the factors playing a role here, is the cost of a retrofit to make the vessel able to run on the liquid natural gas and the tedious transportation and storage of the liquid natural gas, both on shore and onboard the ship. This type of fuel definitely has great potential and with the current developments in the industry, more ships are likely to start using liquid natural gas as fuel, but it will most likely take years before it becomes the mainstream.

LNG is stored in bullet tanks and because LNG consists of natural gas that is cooled down to -162 degrees Celsius, which makes it 1/600 of its natural volume, it is very important that a consistent temperature is kept. If not, the LNG can expand and create an explosion because of the pressure in the bullet tank.

For monitoring this temperature range, the Senmatic sensor Type NS are used. The type NS has the advantages of being a roll-up threaded thermometer that can fit in places such as tanks or pipeline systems.

Read more: Sensors for LNG storage and distribution

2. Heavy Fuel Oil – with a max Sulphur emission of 3.50%

Heavy Fuel Oil (often referred to as HFO) is used by most of the ships in service today. Heavy fuel has its advantages in the way that it is relatively inexpensive. In fact, it is typically 30% cheaper than distillate fuels such as marine diesel oil or marine gas oil.

One of the downsides to this product is its high emission of Sulphur oxide, which has a serious environmental impact and can be harmful to people working and living near ports. Because of this, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) created the regulation, limiting the Sulphur emissions to 3.5% in 2012 and 0.5% by 2020. This, however, does not mean that heavy fuel oil is a thing of the past just yet. By installing a marine scrubber, which cleans the exhaust gas and limits the Sulphur oxide emission, it is possible to continue using heavy fuel oil.

Read more: How Senmatic’s sensors ensure stable scrubber operations

3. Very-low Sulphur Fuel – with a max Sulphur emission of 0.50%

The very-low Sulphur fuel, which is also often referred to as Marine Diesel Oil (MDO) is actually made from leftover fuel from refineries, using their residues. This is done by blending suitable residual products with a low Sulphur distillates option, which makes it possible to create a high-quality type of fuel.

These fuel types meet the IMO Sulphur cap limit of 0.5%, because they can contain up to 40% of residue product. Even though this in many ways is a great solution, it does come with the disadvantages of potentially being sensitive when mixed with other fuels on board of a ship and the risk of instability.

Read more: Retrofit - Refitting ship engines to run on greener fuel types

4. Ultra-low Sulphur Fuel – with a max Sulphur emission of 0.10%

The ultra-low Sulphur fuel, which is often referred to as Marine Gas Oil (MGO) can in part be considered a new range fuel in the marine industry. This range includes different types of fuels that consist of neat distillates, which have been through a refining process. Some marine gas oils consist of hybrids, being gas oil blended with a residual oil.

Even though this range of fuel is in many ways a great option, it does have a few disadvantages. These, among others, consist of uncertainty about the stability of the fuel, the need for special management because of the low viscosity levels and the uncertainty about the contamination and the compatibility. At the same time, this fuel option will come at a relatively high price, because of the potentially high demand for it.

5. Biofuels

Biofuels refer to fuels made from biomass sources. The good thing about these solutions is that they are completely Sulphur free and made from renewable sources. The bad thing is, that some of these fuels contain properties that can be highly problematic for marine use, such as the high potential of microbial growth. Furthermore, these types of fuels are – for now – far too expensive to most to be a preferred fuel type.

Today, these fuel types are mainly used in a blend with other fuel types to be able to lower the collective amount of Sulphur.

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