How to Prevent Damage in Marine Fuel Systems From Cat Fines

How to Prevent Damage in Marine Fuel Systems From Cat Fines - Marine Cargo Container ship - Parker Kittwake - Parker Hannifin
Container ships and other large marine vessels face a challenge in complying with regulations of marine air pollution, meeting shipping deadlines and waiting for laboratory analysis results of fuel samples. Concerned about fuel quality, the maintenance team collects representative fuel samples during bunkering and then send them off for laboratory analysis. However, the test results often only become available once a ship has set sail and is far out to sea, by which time significant engine damage to fuel pumps, injectors, piston rings and liners may already be in progress. 


The situation

The huge container ships that carry goods around the planet typically burn heavy fuel oil (HFO) in their two-stroke engines. Put simply, HFO is the part of crude oil that remains when all of the useful short chain hydrocarbons have been burned off and condense somewhere up the refinery column. As such, HFO is very closely related to tar and must be heated before it can even be pumped on board a ship.
Much of the heavy fuel oil (HFO), burnt in the cylinders of large 2-stroke marine diesel engines, is contaminated with hard particles known as catalytic (cat) fines. These particles, which find their way into the fuel at the oil refinery, can cause catastrophic abrasive damage to engine cylinder liners during the combustion process. This problem has been inadvertently exacerbated by recent changes to the regulation of marine air pollution because it has driven the use of cat-fine prone, low-sulphur fuel oils. A condition-based maintenance approach was needed.
Leading fuel testing and inspection company Veritas Petroleum Services raised concerns that even when the ignition and combustion characteristics of a fuel have been tested and proven to meet specification, cat fines can still remain undetected in the fuel and consequently enter the system, potentially causing a total loss of propulsion. In parallel, underwriters are increasingly insistent on enforcing compliance with the guidance they issue on reducing the risk of cat fines, which means that owners who do not take sufficient steps to reduce their exposure to this hazard will find their claims much less likely to succeed.
As more emission control areas (ECAs) come into operation, there are growing concerns around fuel quality and the number of engine wear situations related to cat fines are increasing. Research has shown that even small cat fine particles of below 10 microns contribute to significant wear. Incidences of excessive cylinder liner wear have been recorded even though the bunkered fuel oil was within the limits of the ISO 8217:2005 specification, which dictates a maximum of 60 ppm. This is why cat fines are causing such problems for ship-owners.”
The use of non-ISO compliant fuel, faulty fuel purifiers, and/or rough weather kicking up fines from the bottom of the settling tanks are all capable of introducing these suspended particles into the fuel system. 


Go or no go cat fines test 

The Parker Cat Fines Test Kit provides early forewarning of these destructive particles and gives a vessel’s crew maximum opportunity to take corrective steps. The Cat Fines Test has been designed to flag up HFO samples that may be contaminated with dangerous levels of cat fines before the fuel has even been pumped aboard. This simple, wet chemistry, on-board test identifies the presence of abrasive silicon and aluminium fines in HFO. The test is simple to perform, cost-effective and can be completed within a few minutes. Experimental results demonstrate that the new test is capable of identifying those fuel samples that have a cat fine concentration of > 60 ppm (Al + Si), and which therefore exceed the limit recommended by ISO 8217:2012. In fact, the test has been specifically designed to provide the crew with a clear sail or don’t sail indication with regards to fuel quality.


More about catalytic (CAT) fines

Cat fines will damage fuel injection equipment. The fines are particles of spent aluminium and silicon catalyst that arise from the catalytic cracking process in the refinery. The fines are in a form of complex alumino-silicates and, depending on the catalyst used, vary both in size and hardness. If not reduced by suitable treatment, the abrasive nature of these fines will damage the engine, particularly fuel pumps, injectors, piston rings and liners.


Catalyst Fines (Al & Si)

If stored for long periods of time, catalyst fines may settle out of the fuel and build up as sediment in storage tanks.  If the tanks are not drained regularly, this sludge can be disturbed in heavy weather and enter the fuel system.

How to Prevent Damage in Marine Fuel System From Cat Fines - Distribution for Aluminum and Silicon in Fuel - Parker Kittiwake - Parker Hannifin The figure shows the distribution of combined aluminium and silicon in residual fuel worldwide. It may be seen that over 90% of the samples have a combined aluminium value less than 40 mg/kg. ISO 8127:2010 contains a limit for aluminium and silicon combined of 60mg/kg for residual fuel categories RMG and RMK. There are lower limits for lower viscosity fuels.



Reduction of catalyst fines to an acceptable level for inlet to the engine takes place in the settling tank and the centrifuge. The extent of this reduction depends on the water content of the fuel, as catalyst fines are “hydrophilic”, in that they attract water and become contained in a water shell. Inclusion in the fuel of significant volumes of used lube oil may also limit the effective removal of fines.

The rate of settling is determined by Stokes’ Law, which takes account of the particle size, difference in density of the catalyst fine and the fuel, and the viscosity of the fuel. Various values are quoted for the density of catalyst fines, but in reality, they may be likened to honeycombed structures, which retard the rate of separation. This is further hindered by the outer shell of water by virtue of the close proximity of the density of water to that of the fuel.

The extent of the removal also depends on the height of the tank (fixed) and the size of the particles (variable). As far as the centrifuge is concerned, the critical factor is the relationship between the actual viscosity of the fuel and that for which the centrifuge was sized. If there is a difference in viscosity, the residence time of the fuel in the centrifuge will be greater than the design value; hence directionally the centrifuge should be able to remove fines of a smaller size. Whilst this approach is theoretically correct, the operational result is totally dependent on the size distribution of the fines. With the introduction of modern centrifuges without gravity discs, the recommendation is now to operate all available in parallel, which enables the flow through each to be reduced to the minimum practical level. The fuel is afforded the longest residence time in the centrifuges and the highest separation efficiency can be achieved. Combined output should be equal to the consumption. The temptation of using a higher rate so the daily service tank overflows back to the settling tank and is re-circulated should be avoided.


How to Prevent Damage in Marine fuel Systems From Cat Fines - Download White Paper - Parker KittiwakeTo learn how the combination of offline and online condition monitoring techniques, both on-board and on-shore, can be successfully used to prevent engine damage and avoid unplanned maintenance, download our white paper "The Importance of Effective Cylinder Oil Condition Monitoring in Two-Stroke Diesel Engines".


Article contributed by the Hydraulic Filtration Team, Parker's Hydraulic and Industrial Process Filtration Division

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Comments for How to Prevent Damage in Marine Fuel Systems From Cat Fines

Atlas Lab
Nice Article!!

Analysis of lubricating oil and hydraulic oils not only gives the condition of the oil but also gives a fast and accurate picture of what is happening inside the machinery like power generators, gearboxes, compressors, hydraulic systems and other critical machines. Lubricants have to work under demanding conditions, exposed to constant high pressures, temperatures and other harmful factors, including water contamination, corrosion, glycol ingress, soot formation, raw fuel, and air ingested particles. Effective monitoring of lube oil allows maintenance to be scheduled efficiently, minimising the risk of damage to expensive plants and avoiding unscheduled downtime and maintenance.

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