Blockchain brings transparency to murky world of bunkers

Blockchain has yet another use in shipping – helping bring transparency to the murky business of bunkering.

The first pilot of BunkerTrace, a system that combines synthetic DNA tracers and blockchain to manage risk for marine fuels by creating a transparent chain of custody, was successfully completed this week.

The Boskalis-owned dredger, Prins der Nederlanden was bunkered with 900 cu m of ISO 8217:2010 compliant fuel supplied by Minerva with a unique tracer added. The crew then successfully detected this mark with an onboard analysis case that took less than a minute, with the result of the test logged in a blockchain-based transaction record.

By adding markers to fuel at every stage of the supply chain and recording each transaction in a blockchain-based system, BunkerTrace creates an immutable audit trail that follows the fuel, and any changes made to it, recording all activities and sign offs by actors transacting the fuel.

“Where the DNA provides data related to the provenance and movement of the actual fuel, the blockchain solution traces interactions that occur on a human to human level – the digital ‘handshakes’ that occur along the supply chain,” BunkerTrace stated in a release, adding: “This creates a powerful tool for owners, suppliers, ports and insurers to track fuels and manage the risk of non-compliant, or even potentially dangerous contaminated marine fuels, from being used on international ships. It also allows crew to test fuel before it is bunkered, rather than relying solely on lab-based testing. It also provides the basis for determining which fuel supply chains are the most reliable.”

Marc Johnson, CEO of BunkerTrace, commented following the trial: “After last year’s epidemic of bad bunker fuel, it’s unsurprising that owners, insurers and operators are worried about the quality of fuel available as shipping scrambles for available product post-2020 that will see more fragmentation in fuel supplies as more fuel is blended to meet compliance. This successful trial of BunkerTrace has demonstrated that it’s an easy, reliable means of introducing a level of transparency and traceability into the marine fuel supply chain that we’ve never had before. We’ve had a high level of interest in the product so far, and this is an important step on the way to rolling this out to the market.”

The trial used a tracer – added to the fuel as it was loaded onto a Minerva bunker barge, via a dosing pump on the fuel line.

Bureau Veritas verified that the fuel line and receiving cargo tanks were empty. As the fuel was bunkered, the crew of the Prins der Nederlanden used an onboard sampling kit to test for the presence of the tracer.

The test took under two minutes and was able to detect the presence of the mark at two parts per billion in the fuel. Samples of fuel were collected before and after the tracer was added for further analysis.

Sam Chambers

Starting out with the Informa Group in 2000 in Hong Kong, Sam Chambers became editor of Maritime Asia magazine as well as East Asia Editor for the world’s oldest newspaper, Lloyd’s List. In 2005 he pursued a freelance career and wrote for a variety of titles including taking on the role of Asia Editor at Seatrade magazine and China correspondent for Supply Chain Asia. His work has also appeared in The Economist, The New York Times, The Sunday Times and The International Herald Tribune.
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