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The International Bunker Industry Association (IBIA) has issued a robust response to a recent social media post which suggested that paraffinic hydrocarbons in VLSFO are the cause of high black carbon emissions

In a LinkedIn post, Francisco Malta of VM Industrials, a distributor for additives manufacturer Aderco, ran an article which was initially titled ‘Why new VLSFO 0.5% Sulphur fuels emit higher Black Carbon Emissions. In the post, Malta claimed that the paraffinic content in VLSFOs, rather than a high aromatics content, results in black carbon emissions.

As well as adding obfuscation to the VLSFO emissions debate, the post also again brings to the fore the paraffinic/aromatic discussion in relation to these new fuels - the argument that they are more aromatic is something which has not been empirically proved and runs counter to the opinion of very many bunker industry experts.

As previously reported, in February this year a number of industry organisations, including IBIA wrote an open letter to Dr Sian Prior of the Clean Arctic Alliance (CAA), after the environmental lobby group said that shipping’s use of IMO 2020-compliant VLSFOs could ramp up vessels’ black carbon emissions and suggested that these fuels were more aromatic.

A month before this ‘engagement’, a submission by Finland and Germany to the IMO’s Pollution Prevention and Response (PPR) sub-committee included the findings of a report, undertaken by WTZ Roßlau in Germany, which were said to ‘clearly indicate’ that new IMO 2020-compliant 0.50% sulphur fuel blends contain high aromatic compound levels, which can directly impact on black carbon emissions.

In its response to Francisco Malta’s post, IBIA reiterates that the fuels used in the study submitted to the IMO were not representative of most VLSFOs that were in the market at the time.

IBIA’s director, Unni Einemo, notes that: ‘VLSFOs delivered to ships have so far generally been more paraffinic and less aromatic than the HSFOs they have replaced.’

Moving on to Malta’s article, she says that IBIA finds it claims ‘questionable’ and highlights that the article ‘did not present or reference any independently validated data from actual measurements of actual VLSFOs’ to support the assertions made.

Einemo also points out that many vessels are using marine distillates for compliance with Emission Control Area (ECA) sulphur regulations. While many distillates are paraffinic in nature, there have been no reports of increased black carbon emissions in ECAs.

Again taking issue with the article’s observation that asphaltenes in VLSFOs ‘make their way to the combustion chamber,’ IBIA says that ‘VLSFOs typically contain less asphaltenes than HSFOs so it seems counterintuitive to suggest that more asphaltenes reach the combustion chamber when using VLSFO compared to HSFO.’

Einemo continues: ‘From what we have heard, fuels with higher paraffinic content are associated with improved combustion compared to highly aromatic fuels.
So far, we have not heard about VLSFOs being particularly prone to poor and/or incomplete combustion compared to HSFOs (which are typically more aromatic). Hence the claims in the article appear to run counter to real world experience.

‘When pointing to a certain fuel characteristic as the cause of an increase in BC emissions, it needs to be backed by independently validated data and specifics on the measurement methodology used to define black carbon.’

The IBIA response also notes that after communication with Malta, he has ‘edited the LinkedIn post to insert “may” in the headline so it reads “Why new VLSFO 0.5% Sulphur fuels may emit higher Black Carbon Emissions”, and has moderated some of the language that suggested that VLSFOs have caused an increase in black carbon emissions.’

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