Blending and Bunkering
An analysis of the bunker fuel supply chain

Bunker fuel operations are a major economic activity in the Netherlands, with over 20,000 ocean-going vessels bunkering fuel oil in the Port of Rotterdam annually. Following a series of incidents, questions have arisen about the possible admixture of hazardous waste to this fuel. The present study aims to provide insight into bunker fuel, blend components, the parties involved in the chain and the risk of hazardous waste admixture. It was carried out at the request of the Netherlands’ Environmental Inspectorate, the agency responsible for monitoring the processing of waste streams. 

Worldwide, some 100 incidents involving the presence of (hazardous) waste in maritime fuel oil have been reported since 2003. Fuel oil consists mainly of oil refinery residues, which are blended with other components (in some cases ten or more) to bring the fuel up to specification. These blend components are usually waste streams from oil refineries and other industrial processes like ethylene cracking or plastics production. 

The market is made up of independent oil traders, major oil companies, tank storage and transhipment firms and suppliers. This market is fairly untransparent as well as highly dynamic and price-competitive, and there is a strong incentive to use cheap blend components. Although the IMO standard Marpol Annex VI and the ISO product standard ISO 8217 lay down quality requirements for the end product, they provide no quality guarantee down the supply chain, which means there is a risk of hazardous waste being admixed. Apart from the aforementioned incidents, however, little is known about the scale on which this occurs. 

Based on the present study, CE Delft advises the IMO (International Maritime Organisation) and ISO (International Organisation for Standardization) to lay down explicitly, in Marpol Annex VI and ISO 8217, which blend components are permitted and which are not. In addition, we advise introducing an obligation for parties in the supply chain to keep an account of the source and composition of the blend components used and the bunker fuel supplied. This will provide better guarantees as to the quality of the fuel oil marketed and reduce the risk of hazardous waste admixture. The Netherlands Environment and Transport Inspectorate is to use the results of the study in its activities monitoring the bunker fuel chain.