The choice of cylinder oil is typically determined by three factors: the marine engine itself; the fuel being used; and the vessel’s operating conditions. Given this, the limitation of sulphur content to 0.5% in marine fuel from 2020 by the International Maritime Organization will have a significant impact on cylinder oil selection.

Shell Marine’s expectation is that 90% or more of the shipping fleet will switch to fuels with a Sulphur level of <0.5% in the run up to January 2020. This will be a mixture of very low sulphur fuel oil (VLSFO) and Distillate fuels.

We believe that fewer than 2,000 ships will be fitted with scrubbers to continue running on HSFO by that date and that, with a high-end estimate of 200 ships running on LNG, combined no more than 10% of ships will be accounted for by HSHFO, LNG or any other alternative. Our expectation is that up to 3 million b/d of HSFO demand will be displaced by <0.5% sulphur content fuels.

The post-2020 scenario poses different challenges for slow speed cylinder oils to the ones OEMs have been focusing on over recent years, where BN80-BN100 oils have been needed to defend newer engines against cold corrosion under part-load conditions burning higher sulphur fuels. 0.5% S Fuel use will drive demand towards lower BN oils.

Shell‘s cylinder oil developed for use in Emissions Control Areas – has already proved itself in service as well suited for lubricants of 0.1% sulphur content in the 2-stroke application. However, Shell Marine’s expectation is that significant demand for BN40 and BN70 grade cylinder oils will come into play. Shell Marine has a new BN40 product under field trial, for launch in 2019.

Shell Marine also recently upgraded its four-stroke crankcase oils to be ‘2020 ready’; the new oils have been optimised to deal with the faster viscosity increase and BN depletion experienced by oils in modern medium speed engines, which work at pressures between 10-17% higher than their predecessors and oil temperatures approaching 300 degrees at the top crown.

Shell Marine does expect LNG to establish a presence in the market in the years ahead, We also expect HSFO prices to drop after shipping turns en masse to lower Sulphur fuel, which may entice some owners to look afresh at scrubber ROI. We expect 30% of the market could be using scrubbers by 2025-2030, which is likely to see demand recover for higher BN lubricants, although their use may then drop off if new environmental legislation restricts use of scrubbers.

One challenge arising in the post-2020 world is likely to be variable fuel quality. While not directly a lubricants issue, this will demand scrutiny of lubricant performance, backed by the ship to shore connectivity and analytics. Even owners grappling with the cost of EEDI/MRV/CO2/2020 and ballast water management will concede that one lesson learned from engine cold corrosion has been that saving on cylinder oil technical services can prove a false economy.


The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of SAFETY4SEA and are for information sharing and discussion purposes only.

Dr Sara Lawrence is Global Technical Manager at Shell Marine.  Sara leads a global team of marine technical experts delivering lubricants and technical services to customers. She is also responsible for developing and delivering new services as required by the market  and working hand in hand with R&D and marketing to implement new technologies.  Shell Marine offers integrated solutions that combine innovative products and technical services for your marine operations need. Our success is built on the many ways our people have worked in partnership with engine manufacturers and customers to solve problems and deliver value.