There’s not enough time to produce a new fully revised ISO 8217 standard before 2020, but it is possible that a “publicly available specification” could be ready sooner in response to a request from the IMO for ISO to “keep consistency between the ISO standard and implementation of the 0.50% sulphur limit.”
The 6th edition of the standard was published in March 2017. It dealt with the issue of fatty acid methyl ester(s) (FAME) and introduced a new reporting requirement on cold flow properties for winter grade distillates (cloud point and cold filter plugging point), but it was not yet able to address all of the issues arising from the introduction to the market of several less conventional types of marine fuels with maximum 0.10% sulphur for operation in emission control areas (ECAs). Quality concerns specific to low sulphur types of fuel are expected to become even more pressing with the 0.50% sulphur limit in 2020.
The technical committee that reviews and updates the ISO 8217 marine fuel standard, as well as ISO 8216 (classification of marine fuels) has started looking at what to do for the next revision. The normal revision process takes at least three years so it would not be ready prior to 2020, but sometime late in 2020 at the earliest, probably later.
However, it is possible that the ISO 8217 technical committee (ISO TC28/SC4/WG6) could work on an interim solution by producing a publicly available specification (PAS), which is an intermediate specification published prior to a full International Standard. A PAS is initially valid for up to three years, after which it may be extended for up to another three years or can be withdrawn. The PAS, or elements of it, could be adopted as part of the next full ISO 8217 revision.
At the moment, ISO 8217 is divided into distillate marine (MD) grades, distillate FAME (DF) grades and residual marine (RM) grades. We already have some fuels meeting the 0.10% sulphur limit in ECAs that do not fit into the distillate category, and hence are typically sold under ISO 8217 residual marine specifications (RM grades). ISO 8217 will likely continue to have DM grades (pure distillate fuels) so the main question is how it will address the low sulphur fuel blends that fall into the RM category today.
The most pressing quality concerns about the blends that are expected to be produced to meet the 0.50% sulphur limit in 2020 relate to stability and the compatibility between various products, and this would likely be the focus of the work. It could include incorporating new test methods to get a better measure of fuel stability and compatibility.
It will be a challenge to come up with ISO 8217 specifications for the low sulphur fuels that are not traditional distillates because their compositions can vary so much. They may be based on vacuum gas oil (VGO), or blends incorporating various heavy and light refinery product streams, including residual fuel oils and middle distillates.