Direct Injection GCMS Screening – Intertek Lintec Case Study

During the months from March to May of 2018 the marine fuel supply sector experienced the most significant fuel contamination scare that had been seen for a number of years. It was estimated that somewhere in the region of 100 vessels were supplied with a fuel product that contained “unexpected chemical compounds” from ports in and around the US Gulf Coast and Panama. The majority of the fuels supplied were loaded onto vessels in the Houston area with issues spreading to other ports in the area during the coming months
Vessels supplied with the product in question experienced a range of operational difficulties but for the most part the reported issues related to fuel injection equipment – particularly problems with sticking fuel pumps as well as significant wear damage associated with seized injection equipment.

In the vast majority of cases, the fuels supplied were analysed based on standard industry requirements – in accordance with the ISO 8217 specification of marine fuels – prior to use and routine analysis provided no indication of the underlying contamination or the resulting issues experienced during use.

The Changing Face of Fuel Quality.

It has been well documented that the evolution of legislative reform presents new and unusual issues for fuel buyers to consider. In an attempt to comply with changing emission regulations, fuel suppliers are constantly looking at producing greater quantities of compliant product. This, in turn, can mean that fuel buyers are faced with a wide range of “new and different” fuels in an ever expanding supply chain.
In looking at the next legislative step, the introduction of the 0.50% m/m Sulphur limit in 2020, the industry looks set to see another influx of blended fuels that could possibly give rise to similar challenges to those experienced when the 1.00% m/m Sulphur limit was introduced in 2010. Intensive blending has provided an opportunity for unregulated blend / cutter stocks to pass into the marine pool which has been proven to be detrimental to fuel quality in the past. Given the issues experienced by operators previously, and the potential for further issues as a result of new legislative requirements, the identification of potential problem components in fuels has become a critical concern for fuel purchasers who wish to protect their assets.

Providing a Solution

In an attempt to provide a degree of cerainity and assurance to fuel buyers Intertek Lintec has introduced an innovative service to identify potential contaminants similar to those seen during the recent contamination issues. Many of the compunds found in the probalmatic fuels could only be identified using in-depth Direct Injection GCMS analysis which is not part of the routine scope of fuel analysis. The application of Direct Injection GCMS as a forensic tool has been long established but is only ever really utilised after a problems have been seen. Given the nature of the analysis and the expertise required to conduct the necessary interpretation of the data collected it is not something that is suited to the fast turnaround lab environment required for routine fuel analysis.
However, the new technique offered by Intertek Lintec is designed to augment the already extensive portfolio of forensic analysis techniques offered and follows in the footsteps of the original fast Chemical Screening Service pioneered by Lintec Testing Services Ltd. The Direct Injection GCMS Screening can now provide a fast screening GCMS tool that, not only supports existing screening capabilities, but also significantly extends their scope.

This technique offers an in-depth insight into potential underlying issues, can be carried out in a much shorter time frame (along-side the standard suite of ISO 8217 tests) and can identify a wide range of potential contaminants that would only usually be visible when using a much more intensive GCMS analytical suite of tests.

Interpretation of the Data

The complex nature of GCMS analysis and the way the analytical data is presented means that a great deal of time and expertise is required to provide it in a format that can be understood by all.
This being the case the Direct Injection GCMS Screening is reported using a simple traffic light system, whereby all of the interpretation is carried out by the Lintec analysts which allows the recipient to fully understand the implications of the results gained without an intrinsic knowledge of the testing that has been carried out.
The results of the DIGS test will typically appear on a supplied test report as highlighted below:

This simple mechanism ensures a degree of clarity and does not require any interpretation by the recipient.

In looking to the future it is clear that the rush for compliance as of 1st January 2020 still offers a significant degree of uncertainty for fuel purchasers, however Intertek Lintec is taking significant strides in offering clients a degree of certainty and reassurance through all facets of its investigative services.