Marine Fuels

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Marine Fuels

Crude oil is, at the present time, the source of most fuel oils for marine use. Synthetic fuels are being developed but will probably be too expensive for ship propulsion. Solid fuel, such as coal, is returning in a small way for certain specialised trade runs. The various refined products of crude oil seem likely to remain as the major forms of marine fuel. The refining process for crude oil separates by heating and distillation the various fractions of the oil. Paraffin fuel would be used in gas turbine plants, gas oil in high- and medium-speed diesel engines and crude oils in slow-speed and some medium-speed diesels. Paraffin and gas oil are known as 'distillates', which are free flowing, easily stored and can be used without further treatment. Residual fuels, however, are very viscous or thick at normal temperatures, and require heating before use. Additional treatment to remove harmful chemicals or sulphur may be required for all or some of the refined products, depending upon their application. Finally blending or mixing of the various oils is done to provide a range of commercial fuels for different duties.

Fuel oils

Fuel oils have various properties which determine their performance and are quoted in specifications. The specific gravity or relative density is the weight of a given volume of fuel compared to the weight of the same volume of water expressed as a ratio, and measured at a fixed temperature. Viscosity is a resistance to flow. A highly viscous fuel will therefore require heating in order to make it flow. Measurement of viscosity is by Redwood, Saybolt or Engler instrument flow times for a given volume of fuel. The ignition quality of a fuel is measured by the time delay between injection and combustion, which should be short for good controlled burning. Ignition quality is indicated as cetane number, diesel index and calculated cetane index; the higher the value the better the ignition quality of the fuel. The flash point is a figure obtained and used mainly to indicate the maximum safe storage temperature. The test determines the tempera- ture at which the fuel will give off sufficient vapours to ignite when a flame is applied. Two values are possible: an open flash point for atmospheric heating, and a closed flash point when the fuel is covered while heating. Low-temperature properties are measured in terms of pour point and cloud point. The pour point is slightly above the temperature at which the fuel just flows under its own weight. It is the lowest temperature at which the fuel can be easily handled. At the cloud point waxes will form in the fuel. Below the cloud point temperature, pipe or filter blocking may occur. The carbon residue forming property of a fuel is usually measured by the Conradson method. Controlled burning of a fuel sample gives a measure of the residual carbon and other remains. Sulphur content is of importance since it is considered a cause of engine wear. A maximum limit, expressed as a percentage by weight, is usually included in specifications. The calorific value of a fuel is the heat energy released during combustion. Two values are used, the more common being the Higher Calorific Value, which is the heat energy resulting from combustion. The Lower Calorific V alue is a measure of the heat energy available and does not include the heat energy contained in steam produced during combustion but passing away as exhaust. The measurement is obtained from a bomb calorimeter test where a small fuel quantity is burnt under controlled conditions. The various fuel properties have different effects on performance of the engine and the storage and handling requirements of the system. Blending and the use of various additives will also influence both the engine and the system. Viscosity will affect jerk-type injector pumps and injector operation since the liquid fuel is the operating medium. The pump mechanism is lubricated by the fuel which, if it is of low viscosity, will cause wear. Cloud point and pour point values are important when considering the lowest system operating temperatures. Wax deposited in filters and fuel lines will cause blockages and may restrict fuel flow to the engine. The cetane number or diesel index will determine injection timing and also influences the combustion noise and production of black smoke. The temperature in a fuel system should be progressively increased in order to deliver fuel at the correct viscosity to the injectors or burners. System cleanliness is also very important to reduce wear on the many finely machined parts in the fuel injection equipment.

Problems with heavy fuels

The problems of present and future heavy residual fuels can be categorized as: 1. Storage and handling. 2. Combustion quality and burnability. 3. Contaminants, resulting in corrosion and/or damage to engine components: for example, burnt out exhaust valves.

Storage problems

The problems of storage in tanks of bunker fuel result from build-up of sludge leading to difficulties in handling. The reason for the increase in sludge build-up is because heavy fuels are generally blended from a cracked heavy residual using a lighter cutter stock resulting in a problem of incompatibility. This occurs when the asphaltene or high molecular weight compound suspended in the fuel is precipitated by the addition of the cutter stock or other dilutents. The sludge which settles in the bunker tanks or finds its way to the fuel lines tends to overload the fuel separators with a resultant loss of burnable fuel, and perhaps problems with fuel injectors and wear of the engine through abrasive particles. To minimize the problems of sludging the ship operator has a number of options. He may ask the fuel supplier to perform stability checks on the fuel that he is providing. Bunkers of different origins should be kept segregated wherever possible and water contamination kept to a minimum. Proper operation of the settling tanks and fuel treatment plant is essential to prevent sludge from entering the engine itself. A detergent-type chemical additive can be used to reduce the formation of sludge in the bunker tanks.

Water in the fuel

Water has always been a problem because it finds its way into the fuel during transport and storage on the ship. Free water can seriously damage fuel injection equipment, cause poor combustion and lead to excessive cylinder liner wear. If it happens to be seawater, it containssodium which will contribute to corrosion when combined with vanadium and sulphur during combustion. Water can normally be removed from the bunkers by proper operation of separators and properly designed settling and daily service tanks. However, where the specific gravity of the fuel is the same or greater than the water, removal of the water is difficult—or indeed not possible—and for this reason the maximum specific gravity of fuel supplied for ship’s bunkers has generally been set at 0.99.