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BP tackles bunker fuel problem with Coriolis technology

01 November 2007

The majority of bunker fuel is delivered to ships by barge. Trapped air, held in suspension within viscous bunker oil, artificially increases its volume. This effect has been a major and hitherto unsolvable problem for the shipping industry. The measurement of the supplied quantity currently involves dipping barge tanks before and after delivery and undertaking various calculations and corrections to convert the tank volume measurement into a delivered mass.

Over 200 million tonnes of bunker fuel delivered to ships each year
Over 200 million tonnes of bunker fuel delivered to ships each year

The measurement process is fraught with difficulties, errors and personnel hazards. BP, recognising all these problems, has embarked upon an ambitious project to utilise best available and economically viable technology to overcome the traditional quantity verification methods. After extensive evaluation of all current flow measurement technologies, Invensys was one of three vendors able to meet the strict flow measurement requirements to develop a control system which will accurately measure the amount of bunker oil loaded onto a ship, excluding trapped air. This system will ensure that ship owners only pay for the mass of fuel that is delivered.

BP asked three flow meter manufacturers to take part in a laboratory trial to determine the ability of their flow meters to accurately measure bunker oil. The criterion of the test was to measure the amount of oil by mass excluding any suspended air. The only product that was able to meet this strict criterion was the Foxboro Coriolis Meter which was developed by Invensys in partnership with Oxford University.

With over 200 million tonnes of bunker fuel delivered to ships each year it is essential that the process of delivering bunkers is both fair and safe. This project proposes technology as the solution: not only can the delivered mass be accurately measured, but by use of the latest communications technology the ship’s crew can read the fuel delivery data in real time without the need to climb down onto the barge – a hazardous activity which has resulted in a number of fatalities. But bunkering is a wide-ranging activity, with fuel deliveries ranging from 300 to 12,000 tonnes. Flow rates vary, timing is often critical and the value of some deliveries can exceed millions of dollars. The measurement quality issue is of equal concern both to ship operators and to the International Bunkering Industry Association, (IBIA). Raising industry standards is one of the current themes of IBIA, who will be overseeing the setting of a new measurement standard for the global bunker industry.

The Maritime Port Authority of Singapore, the largest bunkering port globally, has been a leader in the field of developing improved bunkering procedures. The use of state of the art technology can raise standards even further and is one reason for the MPA putting its support behind this project.

Following the successful laboratory trials of the Foxboro Coriolis Meter, BP has asked Invensys to produce two test skids incorporating the Foxboro Coriolis Meters which will be used in sea trials off Singapore. The test will ensure the performance measured in the laboratory can be effectively scaled up into a commercial application. “It is difficult to replicate the large volumes of bunker fuel pumped at a port, within the laboratory. So by undergoing this further test, calibration factors can be calculated accurately and the profile of different fuels can be analysed.


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