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Digital Exclusive: Supporting the shipping sector’s decarbonization to a carbon-free future

DENIZART, TotalEnergies Lubmarine, Paris, France

The last 18 mos has seen the global shipping industry start to accelerate its decarbonization journey. LNG is now recognized as a mature and the best immediate option to help reduce the shipping sector’s carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, while at the same time, providing the technological platform for the transition to new fuels such as biofuels, ammonia (NH3) and methanol.

As the speed of new fuel development ramps up, the challenge for lubricant manufacturers is to stay ahead of those changes to ensure that, when those fuels do become commercially viable, lubricant solutions are available that are tried, tested and ready to support shippers as they evolve towards a carbon-free future.

Along with methanol, NH3 has been recognized as a viable fuel solution—it provides good combustion in a dual-fuel engine and faces less competition with other areas of the transport sector. NH3 storage already exists in 120 ports globally, enabling both ship-to-shore and ship-to-ship bunkering solutions, alongside reasonable liquefaction temperatures.

However, while NH3 offers opportunities to reduce greenhouse gases (GHGs), it also poses key challenges from the perspectives of safety (both environmental and human) and practicality. These include significant challenges in its volumetric energy density and toxicity, which calls for stringent safety solutions when handling it.

NH3 as a fuel. The author’s company is actively researching NH3 as a future fuel solution. For example, the author’s company’s research and development teams have redesigned a 1.5-liter (l) diesel engine to run on NH3, enabling researchers to better understand the impact NH3 will have on engines, as well as the challenges to effective engine lubrication.

With any new fuel, researchers must understand the interactions and impacts of the relationships between lubricants, fuels and the engine to ensure that lubricants are delivering the desired performance and, through lifecycle assessments, be assured that there will be no carbon generation.

It is a methodology that starts in labs with the author’s company’s NH3 engine oil development project.

Test Approach. From an initial perspective, the author’s company’s researchers wanted to investigate how NH3 interacts with lubricant chemistry to fully understand its operations, enabling researchers to adapt lubricant formulations to meet specific needs.

When it comes to lab testing, the key objective was to develop an engine oil technology that allows reliable, clean and efficient use in ammonia-fuelled internal combustion engines (ICEs).

To meet these objectives, researchers needed to:

  • Observe lubrification challenges in a real engine environment (e.g., deposits, wear, corrosion, oil ageing).
  • Evaluate sensitivity to engine oil composition.
  • Calibrate laboratory test severity.

The challenge was to understand the impact that NH3 has on oil components and their performances, the availability of NH3 ICE tests (performance, endurance), access to large engine prototypes, and the need to run and understand evaluation test results.

Key observation and assessment areas when running ammonia engine tests include:

  • Ammonia dilution
  • Nitro-oxidation
  • Corrosion
  • Cylinder wall degreasing
  • Water handling
  • Deposit control
  • Material/elastomer compatibility.

Testing protocols looked at three specific areas:

  1. Oil formulation: Including base oils and additives
  2. NH3 alteration tests: The influence of temperature and crankcase gases composition
  3. Performance evaluation.

This year, the author’s company will be testing lubricants with other new fuels, as well. This includes lubricating tugboats using an NH3-fuelled four-stroke engine.

On the methanol side, the author’s company is starting trails with methanol-fueled two-stroke commercial engines. From lab test results, researchers have been able to analyze the oxidation and primary characteristics of the company’s lubricants, as well as widen testing to incorporate actual field tests on these new engines. These tests are providing invaluable data from which to evaluate, implement and apply to further tests to support product development and shipping’s transition to a carbon-free future.


Dr. Olivier Denizart is a Technical Manager at Lubmarine.  

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