By Vincent Lagarrigue, Director, Trelleborg Oil and Marine
Publication: Marine Professional
Ever since LNG emerged as a viable bunker fuel, one of shipping’s biggest pain points has been how to make the transition from traditional heavy fuel oils to this cleaner, more environmentally-friendly natural gas. The challenge itself has been likened to the chicken-and-egg conundrum: owners are reluctant to bet big on a fuel when the necessary bunkering facilities aren’t available, while those on the supply side are unwilling to provide the infrastructure without concrete evidence of demand.
LNG’s credentials as a marine fuel are well lauded throughout the maritime industry. Often referred to as the world’s cleanest burning fossil fuel, LNG has virtually zero NOxand particulate emissions, and 80-90% less SOx. This makes it a popular choice amongst owners and ship managers in their quest to meet the stringent environmental regulations laid out by the impending sulfur cap.
Despite its initial teething issues, 2018 has been a formative year for the LNG industry, with many industry professionals describing it as a tipping point – a sentiment echoed in a recent survey by Deloitte which revealed that LNG is slowly becoming the preferred solution among ship owners and operators.
We’ve seen a rapid increase in the number of LNG bunkering projects cropping up in new areas around the globe – particularly in Asia, where these services where previously absent. The speed at which these facilities are being installed is a result of large orders by some of shipping’s heavyweights. With nine ultra-large LNG-fueled container ships on order, CMA CGM is pushing LNG shipping further towards the mainstream. The cruise segment is following suit, with the world’s first LNG-powered cruise ship, Carnival’s AIDAnova, due to embark on its maiden voyage in December this year.
However, with pressure mounting to meet the growing demand, many industry professionals are sceptical that current bunkering projects will be capable of meeting growing demands, resulting in an infrastructure backlog that could have lasting effects across the industry.
This is complicated further by the fact that existing infrastructure at the current hubs may not be suited to the range of vessel sizes represented in today’s fleet. The diversifying LNG-fuelled fleet requires infrastructure that is more flexible, cost-effective at a smaller scale, and adapted to the needs of a range of locations.
What the industry now needs is a solution that is both quick to install and flexible enough to be deployed anywhere in the world, even in the remotest and environmentally challenging of locales.
Where creativity meets flexibility
Currently, most bunkering activity is centred around existing gas hubs. However, over on the small Norwegian peninsula of Herøya a new type of LNG transfer is afoot, which could be the answer to the industry is looking for.
At the end of last year, Trelleborg’s oil and marine operation joined forces with Connect LNG and Natural Gas Fenosa to launch the world’s first Universal Transfer System (UTS) – a floating platform designed to manoeuvre offshore to meet a vessel, rather than requiring it to moor at shore. The lighter, more flexible infrastructure utilizes Trelleborg’s Cryoline floating hose technology, which combines existing and proven hose technologies with customised innovation shaped for LNG.
The UTS is a ‘plug and play’ solution, giving vessels easy access to LNG without any modifications. By allowing a greater level of flexibility, it addresses an infrastructure challenge that is becoming increasingly vital to the evolution of the LNG market.
This solves the problem by bringing the infrastructure to the vessel, reducing the need for extra construction, while also enabling transfer in areas that would be otherwise unsuitable – for instance, too shallow for carriers, or too deep to construct a jetty. It also allows transfer infrastructure to be relocated when out of use, or for maintenance, or brought into port to avoid damage from adverse weather, freeing up space and time in busy ports.
The short installation time adds to the success of the UTS. The initial project took only six months to set up, which is up to six times faster than a jetty, and up to 80% cheaper compared to traditional, fixed infrastructure.
The use of cryogenic floating hoses shows that LNG infrastructure doesn’t need to be bound by the same thinking that underpins transfer solutions for oil or coal. By thinking laterally, the industry has proven that it has the tools and the expertise to break the dam holding back the growth of LNG bunkering and allow it to reach its full potential.
Case example: Driving sustainability in the cruise sector
In October this year, in a legal first for the French Mediterranean, a cruise ship captain will stand trial for breaching the sulphur fuel limit during a stopover in Marseille. According to local media, the ship failed to comply with the European law against air pollution after using heavy fuel oil containing 1.68% of sulphur, exceeding the maximum allowed limit of 1.5%. If found guilty, the captain could be met with a €200,000 fine and up to a year in prison.
Although court cases like this are somewhat rare, the incident has become symbolic of Marseilles’ ongoing battle with air pollution, and a need for cleaner, more environmentally-friendly bunker fuels.
Local residents are concerned that the heavy fuels burned by the giant cruise shipsdocking in the port are having an adverse effect on their health and the local environment – a frustration shared by other port cities around the globe. In an unofficial referendum held in Venice last year, 99 per cent of nearly 20,000 Venetians who took part voted to ban cruise ships from entering the city's lagoon.Similarly, a petition to stop the construction of a new cruise terminal in London’s south-east side received more than 7,000 signatures.
The health of the cruise passengers themselves has also been a source of contention in recent years, with critics lamenting the high levels of nitrogen oxides on board ships.
Meanwhile, the IMO’s recent move to ban heavy fuel oil (HFO) in the Arctic, following on from its banning in the Antarctic, will have lasting repercussions for the cruise industry – particularly the expedition segment, where passengers are increasingly opting for more unconventional destinations.
These issues form a complex backdrop to what is now a booming industry.
LNG as a solution
By rethinking the way cruise ships are run, the industry now has an opportunity to redefine the passenger experience and fulfil its obligations to the environment and local populations. There’s a middle ground to be found and it seems that LNG holds part of the answer.
Currently there are more than 18 LNG-powered cruise ships under construction– seven of which will be launched under the Carnival brand by 2022. However, despite the huge demand for natural gas as a marine fuel, only 22 ports in the world are equipped with the infrastructure required for LNG bunkering and most of these are concentrated in North-West Europe and the US Gulf and East Coast.
Given the notable shift away from traditional cruise itineraries centred around ‘warm-weathered’ destinations such as the Mediterranean towards more offbeat locations like the Antarctic, Greenland and North Cape, it’s no surprise that pressure is now mounting for ports to meet this growing demand and develop new LNG bunkering facilities away from traditional bunkering hubs.
Capable of bunkering large cruise ships with up to 3,600 cubic meters of LNG, Trelleborg Cryoline hoses are part of the solution toolkit which will enable LNG fueling without exorbitant costs for infrastructure.
Significantly, the use of cryogenic hoses for LNG transfer also cuts down on the scale of the infrastructure required, and allows for easier installation and decommissioning. Particularly as the cruise industry moves to more ecologically sensitive areas, the ability to reduce environmental impact with lighter infrastructure grows in importance.
With 2019 expected to be a momentous year in the cruise industry in terms of passengers, new builds, and new destinations, innovative solutions like UTS have a significant role to play in meeting the infrastructural challenges facing global LNG bunkering.