For ship operators, bunker fuel management can feel like placing square pegs in round holes. There is a cost to balancing trade partners to understand, report, and reduce maritime fuel consumption with the duty to safeguard machinery, manage suppliers relationships,and ensure that voyages remain safe, profitable and on-schedule.
Even small fleets require a sophisticated management approach to tracking fuel consumption, monitoring bunkering events, verifying that deliveries are on specification, detecting discrepancies and quality issues, and matching custody transfers received against anticipated volumes.
Bunkering has become an inexact and inefficient operation, compounded by costly margins for error. But today’s more regulated and competitive tonnage market requires a more positive fuel management approach. Proven technology such as Fueltrax is available to solve fuel-related challenges without resorting to financial write-offs. But how do ship owners quantify the upside potential of electronic fuel management technology? If electronic fuel management systems (EFMS) can yield such significant returns, can a modern fleet afford not to have one? The secret is to go with the flow.
In the same way that large retailers surrender to theft, fraud or cashier error by writing-off “shrinkage” on their balance sheets, shipowners accept reduced profits as a result of bunker fraud, off-spec deliveries and a litany of associated issues.
But the days of pricing inefficiency into shipping are over. Despite a recent cash windfall in the liner trades resulting from a unique set of market conditions, economic and geopolitical uncertainty is poised to return shipping to more familiar margin territories. Between tightening regulatory regimes, market based measures such as carbon taxation and emissions trading schemes, demand-side pressure from scope 3 emissions, poseid on lending and the zeitgeist of stakeholder capitalism, cost management has never been more important.
The pressures are more than monetary. Ship owners and charterers must contemplate pursuing non-financial goals related to environmental protection, social equity and good governance. For operators who are resolved to remaining competitive in this decade and beyond, the winds of economic and environmental change demand a conscious approach to decarbonization and new technology.
At its core, decarbonization is minimizing environmental harm by eliminating excess carbon emissions. Since a meaningful reduction in sea freight demand is unlikely in the foreseeable future, it is down to efficiency and technological breakthroughs to close the gap. But efficiency doesn’t just eliminate waste, it also reduces cost and risk, boosting profits and giving businesses more head room.
Electronic Fuel Management Systems (EFMS) liberates efficiency where it is most needed. Fueltrax EFMS blends robust mass flow technology with remote connectivity, intuitive software and data analytics to deliver a blended approach to fuel management.
Fueltrax measures every bunkering event and operating cycle 24 hours a day, wherever the ship is located. The data generated can be used to support decision making, resulting in measurable gains in efficiency, dramatically reducing fuel consumption, carbon emissions and cost. Since payback periods can be as short as 12-18 months, the decision to install a Fueltrax EFMS is a matter of basic arithmetic; you just have to know the numbers. Here we explore those in a bit more detail.
Many operators point to a need for developments in alternative fuel technology and infrastructure as a reason for falling behind the curve on net-zero. While this is a reasonable position, there is a growing consensus that operational efficiency, i.e. burning less of the conventional fuel we have, can be achieved today. In fact, the era of sustainability-linked technological change is well underway in shipping. According to Clarksons data from June 2023, Energy Saving Technology (EST) has been fitted on at least 6,250 ships, totalling 27.3% of fleet tonnage1
For the two-thirds who are yet to invest in any EST, there are choices. Fuel efficiency and carbon reduction measures are not confined to alternative fuels. Measures centered on reducing the consumption of conventional fuels, as is possible with EFMS, can have a transformative impact on carbon intensity and total carbon emissions.
1Clarksons (7th June 2023) Nor-Shipping Preview: Green Technology & Offshore Wind. Retrieved from https://www.clarksons.com/home/news-and-insights/2023/nor-shipping-preview-green-technology-offshore-wind
A Thetius study from 2021 pointed out that perhaps up to 70% of the effort required from shipping to meet IMO-mandated emissions reduction targets could be achieved by reducing conventional fuel consumption by finding operational efficiencies 2. Allied to the environmental case, the same report linked increased profitability, citing a study from Aalto University that showed that mid-range tankers improved their profitability by 17.8% as a result of voyage optimization, mostly by reducing peak shaft power and using data to understand the voyage profile from a fuel consumption perspective3. The most effective way to manage the consumption of any type of marine fuel is to install an EFMS.
A joint IBIA and BIMCO survey conducted in 2022 canvassed 189 maritime professionals for their opinions on bunker licensing schemes, mass flow meters (MFMs) and other fuel security issues. An overwhelming 91% agreed that there is a need for increased transparency between suppliers and buyers of marine fuels. About 1 in 60 custody transfers end in formal quantity disputes, costing buyers an average of $27,790 per incident. While many are settled commercially, 1 in 4 results in legal action. Worryingly, nearly 60% of respondents had experienced off-quantity issues over the previous 12 months4.
As MFM technology becomes more common, the advantages are becoming better understood. 84% of survey respondents believed that quantity issues would decrease with the use of mass flow technology. The reason is self-evident. Placing secure technology in the line that not only records fluid quantity but can also discriminate between the target fuel grades and contaminants such as water or waste chemicals, and detect air bubbles in the flow, eliminates opportunities for suppliers to deviate from the bunker delivery note for any reason.
2Kenney, M, Brunton, L. (2021) The Optimal Route – The Why and How of Digital Decarbonisation in Shipping. Thetius. Retrieved from https://thetius.com/research
3Ahokas, M.-M. (2019). Analysis of Voyage Optimization Benefits for Different Shipping Stakeholders. Aalto University School of Engineering. Retrieved from https://aaltodoc.aalto.fi
4BIMCO-IBIA BL & MFM Survey Analysis (May 2022) Retrieved from https://ibia.net/wp-content/uploads/2022/07/IBIA-BIMCO-BL-MFM-Survey-Analysis.pdf
EFM systems provide a readily available and cost-effective solution to increasing efficiency, and reducing consumption and carbon emissions. But what is less well understood is the attractively low pay back periods; between one and two years for most applications. This is especially attractive given the scale of carbon reductions and margin improvements that they provide. (See Results below.)
The Fueltrax EFMS is compatible with all fuel grades and even works with alternative fuels, making it a vital transition technology. EFMS are readily available and future proof. This makes them equally applicable to new builds with cutting-edge, alternative-ready propulsion systems, as they are a viable retrofit option for existing vessels with as little as two or three years of trading life remaining.
This type of technology should be a straightforward choice, but the maritime tech market has become a confusing place in recent years. Words like Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, and Digital Twin are bandied around, often misguidedly. Some of these have their place, but these technologies can stray into providing solutions where more conventional wisdom works best.
Intelligent fuel management doesn’t require convoluted algorithms understood only by the artificial intelligence that created them. It starts with accurately measuring fuel flow using mass flow metering (MFM) technology and ends with applying that data intelligently to solving the efficiency puzzle. Installing robust, maintenance-free Coriolis MFMs takes the guesswork out of bunkering and custody transfers. Since the amount of fuel stemmed and the amount of fuel used during operations are the cornerstones of consumption management, it pays to remove uncertainty by taking real measurements. For Fueltrax users, this boosts the confidence level to an unsurpassed 99.5% or higher.
Limiting shaft power can result in significant reductions in fuel consumption and voyage costs. The most effective way to limit shaft power is to provide data-driven, real time advice to the bridge team. Maneuvering in traffic dense areas, transiting port approaches and arriving at and leaving a berth can have a detrimental impact on consumption. For vessels which are frequently exposed to conditions which require variable power demands such as feeder vessels, ferries, cruise ships, and tugs, optimizing throttle position and shaft power can make a significant contribution to fuel savings but only when the right data is at hand.
The Fueltrax approach puts consumption data in the hands of the bridge team right where it is needed – at the throttle control. This approach not only results in measurable efficiency gains, but it invests the master and bridge team in the efficiency process. This has been shown to be good for crew morale and retention, but it also provides a vital layer of human oversight. After all, the bridge team remains responsible for the safe navigation of the ship and the best solutions involve human and machine in decision making processes.
For most designs, the power required to move a ship increases in a cubic relationship to the speed. This is heavily influenced by weather and sea conditions, draft, biofouling and many other factors. As such, fuel consumption is consistently the largest variable in voyage related costs. Understanding fuel consumption as a variable cost component in voyage planning and execution is a vital part of running ships profitably. For example, it is normal to agree voyage speeds and codify them into voyage charter party agreements. From the ship owners perspective, this speed should be minimized sufficiently to reduce fuel costs, thus maximizing profitability. An EFMS like Fueltrax can provide vital, near real-time information on the consumption profile for the vessel, allowing commercial teams to use the most favorable voyage speeds, balancing charterer requirements with present performance criteria.
Equally, ascertaining the correct speed to use during ballast legs requires accurate consumption information to balance the requirement to minimize excess fuel consumption with the demands of the freight market. A market experiencing declining freight rates might warrant a faster passage to make the vessel available for hire and find a fixture before rates drop further. Conversely, a bigger focus on maximizing fuel economy is likely to be warranted in a rising freight rate environment.In all scenarios, knowing the threshold at which fuel savings offset reductions in Time Charter Equivalent (TCE) earnings resulting from longer sea passages requires accurate, real-time data.
Fueltrax has a long history of delivering these kinds of insights since it launched in 2006. The Fueltrax family have refined the technology in partnership with our customers using the experience gained from operating Fueltrax on over 800 commercial vessels.
Don’t just take our word for it. In 2022, Fueltrax partnered with Tidewater on their carbon emissions reduction project. What started as a 90-day pilot developed into a prospering partnership encompassing a technology deployment across 41 vessels. In the first 12 months, 41 EFMS installations connected to Fueltrax unique advisory services resulted in a saving of nearly 2.5 million gallons of fuel, $9.7 million USD in costs, and 19,336 Mt of CO2. This represented a payback period of just over one year.