ExxonMobil eyes multi-billion dollar clean marine fuel projects

Author: Nurluqman Suratman


SINGAPORE (ICIS)--ExxonMobil is assessing multi-billion dollar projects at its manufacturing facilities in Singapore and in the UK, which will use proprietary technologies to turn high-grade lower value streams into higher-value marine fuels, a company official said.

The Port of Singapore (Photo by Richard Sowersby/REX/Shutterstock)

These projects could potentially be part of the company’s preparations for the upcoming 1 January 2020 deadline set by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) for a new 0.50% global sulphur cap on bunker or marine fuel from the present 3.50% limit, ExxonMobil marine fuels venture manager Luca Volta told ICIS.

“There’s no doubt that the IMO’s sulphur limit will reshape the global marine fuels landscape. And for the right reason,” Volta said.

“The changes are rooted in making the marine industry a more environmentally sustainable place. The regulation does of course create challenges as well. In order to mitigate these challenges, vessel operators should already be planning on how they transition to a low sulphur future.”

ExxonMobil has already made significant investments at a number of its refineries around the world, including Antwerp and Rotterdam, to increase its production capacity for cleaner fuels, including lower sulphur fuels for the marine industry, according to Volta.

“ExxonMobil’s position has always been very clear over the last year - you must plan for the 2020 deadline now,” he said, adding that vessel operators may be facing additional difficulties such as compatibility, stability, combustion, viscosity and increased catalytic fine levels.

“As an example, compatibility issues aren’t new, but they are likely to rise as a result of the increased variety of fuel formulations developed for 2020,” Volta said.

“The underlying fundamental is that we’re moving away from an age of fuel procurement to an age of fuel management. This will require the marine sector to rethink its bunkering practices,” he said.

Ship owners and operators should already be talking to fuel suppliers about their future bunkering requirements in order to ensure they can procure the fuel they need where and when it’s required, Volta said.

The company has named a number of locations where its low-sulphur fuel range will be available. Ports in Antwerp, Rotterdam, Genoa and Marseilles in Europe, along with Singapore, Laem Chabang in Thailand and Hong Kong, will all offer 0.50% sulphur grades prior to the deadline, according to Volta.

“Additional locations, including North America, and products will be announced before the end of the year.”

By 2020, a large majority of the industry is expected to choose to bunker 0.50% sulphur fuels, Volta said.

“Beyond 2020 choices may well alter, although we believe that the marine industry low sulphur fuels (distillate and residual) will be the preferred route to compliance,” he said.

“What is likely to change is the percentage of vessels using liquefied natural gas (LNG). ExxonMobil expects LNG bunkering to accelerate post 2020, rising to around 10% of the marine fuel mix by 2040. LNG not only helps curb sulphur emissions, it also tackles nitrogen oxide and particulate matter,” Volta said.

“However, its uptake will require a dedicated and cost-effective supply chain. Before we see widespread adoption of LNG, the industry will need to address and develop more experience for the combination of its cryogenic nature and safety processes and procedure while bunkering,” he added.

Interview article by Nurluqman Suratman