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Marine lubricant choice


More efficient engines, new and varied fuels, and recent changes to leading OEM cylinder oil strategies are making lubricant choice a more important and complex decision.
Castrol’s  survey of marine owners, operators and managers, earlier this year, revealed that 30% of those surveyed had undertaken no or limited planning to prepare for these new fuels.When the dynamic between engine, fuel and lubricant isn’t right it could result in reduced efficiency, dirtier engines, and damage to cylinders, while increasing costs.
The changes mean owners and operators should consult closely with lubricant providers to find solutions for engines that have a good balance of both cleaning and neutralising power. 
Cassandra Higham, marketing director, Global Marine & Energy, Castrol, comments: “The sulphur cap means we have entered a new era of complexity in the engine room. In addition, the journey to decarbonisation will mean an increasingly diverse fuel mix, where lubricant choice becomes more critical.
“Increasing stress on engines, a focus on cost, and more blended fuels mean that previous assumptions in the choice of lubricants no longer apply. Castrol supports a new, collaborative approach, with an emphasis on engine cleanliness, in this more challenging operating environment.”
For years, the measure of performance of a cylinder oil has been largely based on its alkalinity, or base number (BN). However, with lower sulphur levels in fuels, cylinder oils need to have both cleaning and neutralising power to protect engine hardware. Castrol Cyltech 40SX was formulated with a bespoke detergency system specifically for use with low sulphur fuels.
Higham adds: “It is vital that lubricant providers, engine manufacturers, ship owners, fuel suppliers and technical staff come together to smooth the road for shipping. The current challenges are only the tip of the iceberg, as the shipping industry aims to transition to new lower carbon fuels and energy.”
Castrol is working with the whole sector to help change the way the market views marine lubricants. Part of this includes a programme of consultative operational and technical improvements that can ultimately drive efficiencies across the engine room – an initiative called ‘Smartgains’. Higham concludes, “As the industry works to stabilise, we’re encouraging the conversations.”

decarbonization puzzle

Shipping is on a journey towards decarbonisation

The next ten years look set to be some of the most transformative years on record, as the industry adapts to the International Maritime Organisation’s (IMO) target to reduce CO₂ emissions by at least 40% by 2030. 

Decarbonisation of the shipping industry is the end goal, but the pathway has several milestones. We passed one of these in January 2020, when the global sulphur cap was implemented.  

A significant share of shipping’s decarbonisation mission will be achieved in the engine room. New low-carbon fuels and more efficient engines are likely to be key contributors to the reduction in emissions. Similar to the sulphur cap, such changes could drive immense technical challenges at a time of acute capital constraint for owners and operators. 

We believe that decarbonisation is a puzzle of several parts. That is why, in early 2020, Castrol surveyed 50 high-level individuals including owners, operators and managers, to get a sense of the industry’s understanding of this decarbonisation challenge.

Our questions did not anticipate COVID-19 and the fresh challenges it has created for our sector. Nevertheless, the results are fascinating, and reveal tremendous insight into how leading figures in our sector see the future unfolding.  

Our questions explored three areas: sulphur cap implementation, the integration of alternative fuels, and preparing for decarbonisation. Castrol sees these as the three biggest pieces of the puzzle required to make significant progress in rapidly, and profitably, achieving a zero-carbon future for shipping. 

Adapting to global sulphur regulations

The sulphur cap joins a list of emissions regulations that have tested the shipping industry, ahead of imminent IMO carbon targets for 2030 and 2050.

Rewinding to 1 January 2020, from a technical and engine point of view the transition was reasonably smooth. There were pockets of supply challenges for some operators in certain markets, with IMO data suggesting that Brazil was the worst impacted country for VLSFO availability in the first part of 2020.

Around 60% of our interviewees tended to agree, saying that they believed the sector was adapting “well” or “very well”. Long-term planning ahead of implementation appears to have paid off.  

However, half of respondents raised concerns regarding compliant fuel availability and the integrity of supply chains in the medium term. 

Some raised a concern that the industry’s response was not as radical or collaborative as it could have been. One key lesson learnt from the sulphur cap is that future environmental regulations need to prompt a more active response from the industry. 


Infographic summary of the first piece of the puzzle

Infographic summary of the first piece of the puzzle

Alternative fuel uncertainty

Next, we examined alternative fuels and how major owners and operators are preparing for a future with lower carbon, alternative fuels.  

It is fair to say that the transition to these future fuels represents the biggest single hurdle the shipping industry must overcome to meet its decarbonisation targets. To navigate it successfully, we will need an unprecedented level of collaboration between fuel suppliers, OEMs, lubricant providers and owners, operators and managers. 

Unsurprisingly, the adoption of alternative fuels has remained on the low side; only 28% of respondents had engaged with a supplier or put plans in place to do so in the near future.  

The survey results clearly show that alternative fuel suppliers will need to be more confident in their capabilities once they are being used at scale. These results reveal that major owners and operators believe that a large part of shipping’s fuel mix will continue to rely on the fossil status quo of VLSFO, ULSFO and LNG for at least 15 years.

It was better news for biofuels suppliers, who came top of the rankings after fossil fuels, with 77% of respondents confident that methanol and biofuels will be widely used by 2035. 

However, the prospects for hydrogen and ammonia were viewed in a less promising light. These fuels were the lowest ranked in terms of confidence, with 46% and 42% of respondents respectively having “low” to “very little confidence” in their commercial viability as a future fuel.  

Owners and operators want to understand the credible solutions on offer so they can reasonably trial and test. This sets the challenge for all lower carbon fuel suppliers to help prove to the market their solutions are viable.

Alternative fuel uncertainty

Alternative fuel uncertainty

Decarbonisation momentum

Finally, we examined decarbonisation planning. More than half said their organisations had undertaken “some planning”. Around 30% had undertaken no or limited planning. However, at the time of questioning – January 2020 – it can be argued that reducing carbon was not on the industry’s mind while implementing the sulphur cap. 


As the previous section explored, low-carbon fuel and engine testing and innovation is still at a relatively early stage within shipping. Once these solutions approach market maturity, it is likely that shipowners and operators will feel they have the assurance needed to move their own decarbonisation planning forward. 


On a brighter note, positive steps are being taken concerning emissions targets. Nearly two-thirds of respondents said they are aware that their organisation had set emissions reduction targets. 


These organisational targets are encouraging first steps on the road to decarbonisation. 

Decarbonisation momentum

Decarbonisation momentum

A call for direction

While the ‘test for emissions legislation’ with the sulphur cap was felt to have gone smoothly, it is clear ship owners and operators are waiting for more assurance about low carbon and alternative fuels. Only then could they move to decarbonisation transformation their fleets.  Survey respondents were clear in their call for direction and collaboration if we, as an industry, are to decarbonise successfully and seamlessly.

One respondent effectively summarised the overriding sentiment as: “The 2020 Sulphur Cap is just a mid-point to decarbonisation. To me, it is only the start of many more changes and adjustments that the maritime sector must make to reduce the impact of our activities.”

A more detailed exploration into the key findings of the survey can be found on the Castrol Newswire.


Driving reliable two-stroke operations: Sea Pioneer Shipping and Castrol

How a global shipping operator on the brink of significant operational change transitioned to a compliant and more efficient cylinder oil

Headquartered in Athens, Greece – and in business for over 50 years – Sea Pioneer Shipping operates a fleet of bulkers and tankers that provide safe, efficient, and cost-effective transportation services.
Before IMO 2020 compliance regulations were due to go into effect, Sea Pioneer's tanker, Tenacity, had been running on HSFO with Castrol Cyltech 100, a high BN cylinder oil formulated to protect against corrosive wear.



To prepare for compliance with IMO 2020 regulations – which limit the level of sulphur in a ship's fuel oil to a maximum of 0.5% – Sea Pioneer leadership called for a review of fleet operations. Sea Pioneer Shipping needed to ensure that any changes would:

Protect their vessels' engines
Meet compliance with IMO 2020 regulations
Deliver safe, efficient, and cost-effective service to their clients
Protect their vessels' engines
Meet compliance with IMO 2020 regulations
Deliver safe, efficient, and cost-effective service to their clients


With an aim to satisfy compliance rules, maintain efficiency, and protect engine parts from wear, Sea Pioneer leadership decided to transition to VLSFO, a new fuel with S<0.5%.

The Castrol Technical Services team knows very well that no two vessels are quite the same, so striking the right balance between BN and detergency for any given engine type is critical.

sea pioneer case study


Making the switch to Cyltech 40SX, a lower base number (BN) lubricant, helps ensure that the right level of acids formed during the combustion process are neutralized. To combat deposits that lead to mechanical wear, Cyltech 40SX also features a bespoke detergency system, which results in a cleaning ability that compares favourably to cylinder oils with a higher BN*.

To facilitate a smooth transition over to this new fuel, the Castrol Technical Services team applied their deep understanding of Tenacity’s operating goals, OEM guidance and potential engine risks with a fuel transition. 
Ultimately, the Castrol team recommended that the Tenacity team should:

  1. Transition from Castrol Cyltech 100 to Cyltech 40SX
  2. Apply a careful testing regime featuring a customized lubricant schedule


Throughout 2020, the Tenacity continued to meet its client needs and no abnormal engine part failures relating to lubricant usage were reported.

The collaborative partnership between Sea Pioneer leadership and the Castrol Technical Services team helped ensure Tenacity transitioned to the appropriate lubricant at an optimized feed rate, which in turn helped reduce operational risks.



We thank Castrol Technical Service local office in Greece for guiding and supporting us during this operational change and for the overall excellent cooperation we have through the years.Kallergis LeonTechnical Manager