In 2020, the International Maritime Organisation will implement a low sulphur fuel directive (LSFD) that will impact on the availability of fuel for ships and mining vessels off the coasts of African countries, including Namibia.
The LSFD will require ships to use low sulphur fuel oil (LSFO), which has a sulphur content of less than 1.5% (compared with regular marine fuel oil/heavy fuel oil which has a sulphur content of 3%). The directive is being introduced to curb the environmental impact that ships and large mining vessels have.
Following on from the automotive market, which has already changed to low sulphur fuel products, such as low sulphur petrol, low sulphur diesel (LSD) and ultra-low sulphur diesel (ULSD), it is shipping’s turn to embrace the low sulphur fuel revolution in the form of LSFO, which is also used by industry – including mining – in furnaces to generate heat and in engines to generate power.
Independent energy company SA Oil supplies the maritime and mining industries with several fuel products, and has made its low sulphur fuel products, including LSFO, LSD – containing 50 ppm and ULSD – containing 10 ppm, available to mining companies in all sectors. SA Oil explains that, unlike many African countries, Namibia and South Africa have started to implement the use of LSFO, LSD and ULSD fuels for industry and the retail fuel market.
SA Oil media and marketing manager Marie Rocher explains that using low sulphur fuel products reduces the industry’s environmental impact. “When a ship, power plant, mine or manufacturing facility burns a fuel product with a high sulphur content, sulphur dioxide is released into the atmosphere. Sulphur dioxide combines with water to form acid rain, which falls to earth entering water systems, with detrimental effects on aquatic environments. Acid rain also soaks into the soil, leaching aluminium from the soil, which then enters the water system.”
Rocher highlights that the Namibian government formally introduced LSD from June 1, 2013, which is available to motorists in Namibia from certain service stations across the country. However, the company provides mines in Southern Africa, including Namibia, with LSD.
“The adoption of low sulphur fuel products in much of Africa is a delicate balance between cost, responsibility and profitability. As new equipment – much of which is imported into Africa and made to European Union Standards, including being configured specifically for low sulphur fuel products – is used in greenfield installations or to replace outdated equipment at existing installations, demand for low sulphur fuel products across Africa is set to increase and we’re already seeing many facilities asking for LSFO and LSD.
“These fuel requirements, as well as the increasing consideration for environmental and human health, are prompting the switch to low sulphur fuel products in Africa. Over 15 years, SA Oil has developed a reputation as a supplier of fuel oils to the mining industry in Southern Africa. As the market has adopted low sulphur fuel products, we’ve adapted to meet these requirements, and we now offer LSFO as well as LSD and ULSD for industry and shipping,” she highlights.
Sulphur, a naturally occurring chemical element, is one of the most abundant resources in the world and all organisms need sulphur, in minute doses, as a macronutrient.
“Sulphur is the third-most abundant mineral in an animal’s body and is a building block of amino acids which, in turn, make up the cells of tissues, muscle and bone. Therefore, as a fossil fuel, crude oil contains sulphur,” Rocher points out.
She highlights that to reduce sulphur levels in crude oil, refiners use a process called hydrotreating to produce cleaner products. As technology improves, so does the cleaning process and the quality of the end product. With improved technology, over time, costs are brought down.
Rocher concludes that low sulphur fuel products can be used by older equipment in the mining industry. This helps mining companies adapt to better environmental control.