What ISO 2020 Means for Lubricant Distributors

If you haven’t heard, the IMO 2020 regulations that will go into effect on January 1, 2020, has placed strict new regulations on sulfur contents of marine lubricants. Here is a quick guide to the new regulations and what they might mean for lubricant distributors worldwide.

Sulphur Percentage Drop

IMO 2020’s biggest regulation shift is that the threshold for acceptable sulphur rates in maritime fuel will drop to .5%, which is a sharp decrease from the 3.5% allowed in most parts of the world. This is a major overhaul whose effects will be far-reaching in both the lubrication and maritime industries.

Lubricants Will Have to Adapt

While fuel suppliers and lubricant distributors are looking to cobble together compliant fuels, there’s a concern that new fuel blends won’t be compatible with ships. According to an Infinium estimate, about 90% of ships will be able to use some form of low sulphur fuels, with 40% using low sulfur fuel, 35% using residual blends whose sulphur content falls below the new regulation, 10% using exhaust scrubbers that will allow them to continue to use the high sulfur fuel, and 5% switching to some kind of alternative, with the remaining 10% of ships falling out of compliance. This means that lubrication distributors will need to adapt in order to ensure that their products will work across these different fuel types, such as vessels equipped with exhaust scrubbers and their need for a lubricant with a higher base number.

Attitude Seems to Be Wait-and-See

While Lubrizol Corp’s business manager for large engines, Simon Tarrant, believes that the supply of low-sulphur fuels will be available at most ports, the truth of the matter is that the numbers to be sure just don’t exist, describing the situation as “wait-and-see” among ship owners. Knowing this, adaptability among lubricant distributors becomes even more crucial.

Testing New Fuels Proves Challenging

Because the new IMO 2020 compliant fuels are not readily available, industrial supplies and oil solutions managers aren’t readily able to field test products to counteract potential instability. With formulation issues such as acid neutralization and deposit control in play in the creation of heavy duty lubricant, the way forward is not immediately clear.

With January 2020 looming and opportunities for testing running short, one thing is for certain: the future of lubricants isn’t immediately clear. Industrial lubricants are an industry that Pui Fun Cheong, marine business advisor of Infineum Singapore Pte., describes as “cost averse,” meaning that the potentially expensive solutions to these problems might be the cause for some growing pains in the coming year.

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