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LNG sheds light on future fuel pathway for international shipping


LNG has gained popularity in international shipping! This is clearly one of the signs that this fossil fuel is overcoming controversies surrounding its green credentials and how it is able to maintain its place as a primary energy source well into the net zero emissions future.

The year 2021 has already seen a record close to 200 LNG-powered vessels placed with shipyards, according to the leading classification society, the DN Alternative Fuel Insight portal.

Globally, LNG-fueled newbuild orders topped 240 at the end of last year, topping 48 for LPG, 22 for methanol and just four for hydrogen, according to DNV data. .

This increase in investment despite the COVID-19 pandemic and record LNG prices is nothing short of remarkable. This is visible proof of the advancement of LNG in its recognition as a viable marine fuel for reducing ship emissions.

Ship owners are making vast investments in new builds on LNG-fueled tonnage, betting on fuel to stay relevant through the decades of ships’ lives and to reach a 2050 net-zero goal endorsed by the International Chamber of the merchant navy.

Along with the expansion of LNG fueled tonnage, the global number of LNG bunkering fleets has risen to 35, from 27 in 2020, with two dozen more on order, according to DNV data.

Shipping has so far refused to heed a call from the World Bank last year to halt LNG bunkering investments. Digging deeper into the reasons for doing so offers invaluable lessons for efforts to transition to net zero in other key economic sectors.

The World Bank released a report last year raising concerns over methane leaks to back a call to halt LNG bunkering investments and divert resources instead to developing ammonia and hydrogen. as marine fuel.

Methane release basically refers to unburned LNG escaping from ship engines into the environment as methane, a very potent greenhouse gas. Yet shipping, like many other basic industries, could not afford to stand still on ship emissions while waiting for marine ammonia and hydrogen supply chains to expand globally.

Industry agrees that the ammonia and hydrogen infrastructure needed to power shipping, which carries more than 90% of global trade, will take many years to develop based on the experience acquired with LNG. The maritime community has long been aware of the emission reductions achievable by switching from petroleum products to LNG. Burning LNG instead of fuel oil can reduce sulfur emissions by 99%, nitrogen oxide by 90% and carbon dioxide by 20%.

Yet maritime use of LNG has grown slowly, starting with bunkering for cabotage using LNG trucks, then with small tankers before moving to ship-to-ship transfers for ocean tonnage.

The first marine LNG bunker facility in North America which was commissioned in 2018 is the shallow water barge, Clean up Jacksonville, has been commissioned to supply TOTE Marine’s 3,100 TEU (twenty foot equivalent) container ships. Gas Entec of AG&P carried out the detailed design of the cargo, machinery and electrical systems of the barge capable of holding 2,200 m3 of fuel.

More than two years later, on the other side of the globe, ship-to-ship bunkering for ocean-going ships only began to take off in earnest after a ship with three times the tankage of Clean up Jacksonville, the Bellina LNG fuel went live in Singapore, the busiest refueling hub in the world. Singapore will further increase its LNG bunkering capacity later this year when Asia’s largest such tanker, a 12,000 m3 newbuild, is due to be delivered to co-owners, Pavilion Gas and Mitsui OSK Lines. AG&P’s Gas Entec is undertaking the final stage of work on the cargo handling and fuel gas supply systems for Singapore’s second LNG bunkering LNG carrier which is set to supply the world’s largest LNG-fueled container ships on the operating fleet of French shipping giant CMA CGM.

Today, the ship-to-ship LNG bunkering needed to support ocean-going vessels is available at major global trade choke points, providing the visibility needed to support continued build-up of fueled shipping tonnage. to LNG.

Japanese ports have embarked on LNG bunkering while simultaneously piloting the use of ammonia and hydrogen.

The first LNG bunker vessel to operate in Tokyo Bay in Japan was commissioned last year. Vessel, Tokyo Bay Ecobunker, is equipped with LNG storage tanks manufactured by AG&P shipyards in the Philippines. It is designed to refuel ships with fuel oil or LNG and will be deployed to supply an LNG-powered cruise ship being built for NYK Cruises out of Yokohama.

Yokohama, which ranks among Japan’s busiest ports, has embraced LNG bunkering as part of its broader decarbonization plan. To be clear, however, port administrators and ship owners have not adopted LNG simply because of time pressure to reduce emissions. The shipbuilding industry has already introduced technologies that limit the risk of methane slip associated with the combustion of LNG on board ships.

Wärtsilä, as a leading manufacturer, has claimed a reduction of more than 70% in methane leakage from dual-fuel LNG ship engines over the past 25 years. Major shipowners also see switching to LNG as the most pragmatic way to immediately reduce emissions with a visible path to a net-zero future. Research has shown that the volumetric energy densities of liquid ammonia and liquid hydrogen are only about 40-50% of those of LNG. This means ships have to sacrifice more revenue-generating cargo space to store and burn liquid ammonia and hydrogen compared to LNG, especially on long voyages.

CMA CGM, which ranks among the top three container lines in the world, has undertaken new trials proving the net-zero transition path for LNG-powered ships. Several of its ships including the 23,000 TEU Jacques Saade, have been successfully refueled with more than 10% bio-LNG blends, demonstrating that ships built to run on fossil-derived LNG do not need modifications to burn bio-LNG, a zero-emissions fuel widely recognized. Under the Poseidon Principles – a widely applied green ship financing framework, LNG-powered ships that use more than 10% bio-LNG may also qualify for preferable financing, trade group SEA LNG said in an analysis. published.

Bio-LNG is still very expensive, although the price of this green fuel could drop significantly if concerted efforts are made to increase its production. Shipping’s experience with LNG has shown that by proactively investing in future fuels and appropriate technologies, industries are better able to weather the pain of transitioning to a net zero future.

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