IMO 2020 Sulfur Cap Regulations & Marine Lubricants

TLT Sounding Board July 2019


© Can Stock Photo / hermanns

Executive Summary

TLT readers report that the sulfur-cap regulation, which goes into effect Jan. 1, is causing players in the marine-lubricants marketplace to adapt quickly to significant changes in their business operations. Impacted by the new regulations are virtually all aspects of developing and bringing a product to market, including testing procedures, pricing, storage, additive packages and distribution. The lubricants industry is responding with different base-blend and additive technologies and by developing more advanced lubricants. Nearly 70% of survey respondents expect prices to increase for these lubricants. An encouraging 52% say the eco-friendlier lubricants are performing as required and expected. 

Q.1. What are the biggest challenges facing marine lubricants suppliers with the implementation of the IMO 2020 Sulfur Cap regulations on Jan. 1?

Identifying the new needs in terms of BN and viscometrics of the engine oils.

Being flexible to change.

The consumption of over-based detergent will shrink dramatically. The lubricant life will increase with the amount of over-based detergent reduced in the marine engine oil, further reducing the size of the marine lubricant.

Adapting lubricant formulation to cope with engine-operation conditions change versus new marine fuel sulfur concentration: Temperature increase? Detergency requirement? And so on.

The greatest challenge that I foresee after attending so many conferences is the unpredictability of the fuel price. This is because fuel price is the primary deciding factors for owner and operator whether to install scrubber or adopt with compliant fuel (0.5%S). As of now, few vessels operate on 0.5% sulfur fuel. Hence, it’s hard to find the correct engine to conduct a field trial because, for a trial, certain criteria such as engine age and bore size must be met, and that is the biggest and more common challenge for lubricant suppliers.

Formulation, pricing and global supply chain.

Developing lubricants that provide good lubricity and still meet the new regulations.

They must be ready to give the right recommendation, perhaps without knowing all aspects of the situation.

Formulating engine oils that can function with various types of fuels during the transition.

Cost increases and availability.

Balancing those changes with the issues in environmentally acceptable lubricants as well.

Higher transportation costs. 

Development of a new additives package.

Not having enough time or understanding of the rules or the available products. 

Improving lubricity and its stability for marine lubricants.

How to reduce sulfide emissions.

Training customers.

Developing applicable testing protocols for lubricants being used in the new IMO 2020 cap. This probably pales in comparison to the likely fuel storage challenges facing the marine industry.

Making coast guard-approved products eco-friendly.

Determining plans for ships that require IFO 180.

Requalification of alternative products.

Sample testing.

Do you expect the cost of marine lubricants to change significantly in view of the new requirements?
Yes 68%
No 32%
Based on responses sent to 15,000 TLT readers. 

Q.2. What changes do marine lubricants suppliers envisage in their product portfolios over the next 24-48 months as the IMO regulations take force?
Different base-blend and additive (detergent) technology.

More advanced lubricants.

Supplier will adjust the formulation to adapt the 0.5% lower sulfur fuel.

Different additive packages.

New products must be formulated, tested and made available.

Expect BN values to drop as not as much acid-neutralization strength is required.

No significant change.

Increase in sales of high-quality fuels.

Significant drop in demand for high BN cylinder oils.

Oils with low ashes.

Additives package change.

There will be change, that is for sure.

Very slow reduction of sulfur content in lubricants.

I suspect an impressive amount of advertising dollars will be spent convincing the end-user that supplier lubes are the very best use of maintenance funds.

Increased regulations.

Increased demand for marine gas oil and lack of IFO 180 for mission capabilities.


Are new marine-oriented lubricant products performing as required and expected?
Yes 52%
No 4%
Not sure 44%
Based on responses sent to 15,000 TLT readers.  
Editor’s Note: Sounding Board is based on an informal poll of 15,000 TLT readers. Views expressed are those of the respondents and do not reflect the opinions of the Society of Tribologists and Lubrication Engineers. STLE does not vouch for the technical accuracy of opinions expressed in Sounding Board, nor does inclusion of a comment represent an endorsement of the technology by STLE.