What is Fuel Oil?

Fuel oil goes by many names. It has also been referred to as heavy oil, furnace oil, gas oil, marine fuel, and bunker fuel. But each of these names is referring broadly to the same substance: a heavy fuel produced from the distillation of crude oil. Fuel oil can include both the distillates and residues (the lighter and heavier substances) produced from the distillation process. Generally, the term fuel oil refers to all liquid fuels that are used to generate heat or power, but the term has widely become used to refer to fuels heavier than standard petrol. Fuel oil does not usually include standard petrol, diesel, or oils burned in wick oil burners like kerosene.

What is Fuel Oil Used For?

The use of fuel oil used to be more widespread, but it has reduced over time as more refined oils have been produced for specific purposes. Fuel oil is, however, still in use in some industrial and maritime settings, such as for steam boilers in power plants, industrial factories, and to power cruise ships. Fuel oil’s use as a maritime fuel led to the name “bunker oil” being added to the list, referring to the process of “bunkering”, where a ship stops to replenish its supply of fuel.

Why Are We Slowing Fuel Oil Use?

Fuel oil is a crude fuel which is usually mixed with others to achieve the ideal viscosity for its purpose. But the crudity of fuel oil also comes with some health risks when burned in uncontrolled environments. It is estimated that, before the introduction of the global cap on sulphur oxide emissions by the International Maritime Organisation in 2020, nick-named the “IMO sulphur cap”, sulphur emissions from burning fuel oil accounted for around 400,000 premature deaths annually, as well as around 14 million cases of asthma in children.

Since the introduction of the IMO cap, these figured have dropped significantly to 250,000 deaths and around 6 million cases of asthma, showing the serious impact that reducing these emissions can have. These health benefits are most felt in nations that are location on major shipping routes, such as Taiwan, Morocco, Malaysia, Japan, Vietnam, and the UK.