Different batches of the same grade of marine fuel (such as VLSFO or HFO) can have radically different degrees of energy intensity, with up to 3% BTU of extra energy available by bunkering with a different batch of fuel, according to new research by technology company FuelTrust.
Analysis of different fuel batches was carried out using FuelTrust’s AI-powered Digital Chemist, which simulates combustion on a molecular level to identify differences in fuel properties such as fuel quality, energy, and emissions profiles.
The software combines the known characteristics of a fuel batch with class data on the vessel engine and data from the day logs to establish what happens when fuel is burned.
FuelTrust says that analysis of 14m barrels of VLSFO fuel across 28 batches suggested that different batches of fuels could provide higher energy, without the supplier or buyer realising – for a fully laden Panamax container ship, this could equate to a 50MT saving of fuel on a voyage from Vancouver, Canada to Portsmouth, UK, or the equivalent of up to 469 nautical miles of additional sailing distance on a typical bunker.
“This isn’t like saying there’s a difference between gas stations – it’s more like there being a huge difference in the fuel you could buy at different pumps,” explained Jonathan Arneault, CEO of FuelTrust.
The company notes that this issue may become more important as carbon regulations tighten and zero carbon fuels such as methanol become more widely used. Because zero-carbon fuels are less energy-dense than currently used fuels, vessels will need to carry more fuel to continue to operate in the same way.
“If, as expected, you need twice the amount of methanol to do the same work as a tonne of HFO, buyers are going to have to pay a lot more attention to the BTUs that they are buying, as they’ll have to squeeze every drop of energy out of their fuel,” said Dr Ram Vis, Founder of Viswa Group and advisor to FuelTrust.
“If we see the same batch-to-batch variation in zero carbon fuels as we do today with conventional fuels, that will be a real issue. Fuel buyers will need to start thinking more in terms of energy, and less in terms of volume.”