ExxonMobil: Cylinder lubrication must adapt to a multi-fuel reality

The impending acceleration of decarbonization efforts to meet the IMO’s 2050 targets is expected also to speed up the development of new more environmentally-friendly engine designs.


Aside from the very low sulphur fuels, engines of the future are expected to be powered by a number of alternative fuels as well including methanol, LPG, biofuels and even ammonia.

Engine cylindars
Source: ExxonMobil

However, for the switch from high sulfur fuel oil to fuels of the future to run smoothly, ships’ engines have to run smoothly as well.

And the key to having all engine cylinders running is efficient cylinder lubrication.

Steve Walker, Global Marine Equipment Builder Manager, ExxonMobil, believes that the future of engine needs will mandate a higher level of performance for cylinder lubrication.

“Cylinder lubricants of the future can, therefore, be expected to offer improved high-temperature viscosity, greater thermal stability and better detergency. Product lifecycles are also likely to shorten significantly, favouring suppliers who can invest heavily in R&D to keep pace with engine builders’ performance requirements,” the company said in a white paper.

Furthermore, having in mind that the path toward decarbonization of the shipping industry will be driven by a multiple of fuel choices and not a single fuel of the future, this is also likely to result in oils that are compatible with multiple fuel types.

“We can expect shorter product lifespans and a growing need for formulations to be flexible – both to changing fuel specifications and quality. Critically, cylinder oils of the future will need to control deposit levels more than ever before,” the white paper reads.

Inadequate lubrication performance can cause insufficient engine cleanliness and engine damage, resulting in higher maintenance costs and increased engine downtime. Given the competitive nature of the shipping market, this is a risk ship operators cannot afford.

Having said that, next-generation cylinder oils will require far greater investments in development and testing, according to ExxonMobil, meaning that reformulations will become more common.

In order to be ahead of the curve, there is a need for the engine manufacturers, shipowners, and lubricant manufacturers to work together in order to streamline the innovation and development process.