Monday, April 7, 2014

Deep Sea Shipping Will Rely on Ports Bunkering Facilities to Supply Vessels with LNG

Lloyd's Register Takes a Good Look at the Future of Liquefied Natural Gas Availability
Shipping News Feature

UK – WORLDWIDE – Much of what Lloyd’s Register concerns itself with these days, as do many others, is the drive toward cleaner shipping systems, and a key part of the proposed future for fuelling the next generation of freight and passenger carriers is likely to be the rapid expansion of vessels powered by liquefied natural gas (LNG). The trick therefore, just as with land based attempts at environmental and performance improvements, is for a sufficiently reliable infrastructure for refuelling, in this case deep sea vessels, being in place.

Whilst on the roads the question as to fuel of the future remains undecided (electricity charging points at every filling station, hydrogen fuel cells etc.?) with LNG Lloyd’s Register’s latest foray into an analysis of ports provides some insight into the future of LNG bunkering world-wide just as short sea demand grows and the possibility of expansion into bunkering for deep sea emerges.

The Lloyd's Register’s LNG Bunkering Infrastructural Survey 2014, draws upon responses from twenty two of the world’s major ports from a variety of countries spread across Europe, Asia and North America, six of which responded to the last similar study in 2011. A resounding 76% of respondents stated they expected to install LNG bunkering within five years with 59% having specifically made plans to do so.

Whilst in the short term most will rely on third party specialist suppliers to supply gas from terminals to ship, mainly by either truck or bunker barge, in the long term 47% said they would install dedicated facilities and one port is considering the use of floating storage and regasification units (FSRUs). Presumably because of the willingness to use third parties, lack of in port infrastructure was not seen as likely to hamper development, with 86% considering it was likely that the need for supplies to deep sea vessels would develop within a decade.

One of the big worries about the fuel is of course the hazardous nature of large quantities of extremely flammable gas yet the report concludes that societal concerns about LNG as a future fuel are falling and the ports questioned insist there is clear awareness that port and land safety issues need to be harmonised. Latifat Ajala, Lloyd’s Register’s Senior Market Analyst, remarked:

"Global ports are gearing up for a gas fuelled future for shipping. Now we can clearly see that the development of bunkering capability is going to be a vital driver for take up of LNG by deep sea shipping. Traditional bunkering ports will need to be able to offer gas just as they offer the traditional choice of fuel oil or distillates today. Most LNG fuelled projects seen so far are very short haul, point to point trades where the operator can secure and control gas supply regardless of the global bunkering markets inability to supply LNG. But gas can only really take off if supply is more like orthodox bunkering arrangements. Real expansion requires infrastructure and delivery capability. It is clear that ports are planning to develop the infrastructure and capability."

Much still remains to test the viability of LNG as a suitable replacement for traditional fuels, whilst it addresses several serious environmental problems it also raises a few questions of its own and it remains to be seen what percentage of the world’s merchant fleet opts for gas when replacing the current crop of vessels. Much will hang on the sure and certain knowledge that stocks are readily available worldwide to give ship owners the confidence to proceed. Even if a vessel plans to ply a route where currently LNG is to be found, the life of a vessel is a long one and a change of service, the price at resale, many things can affect the mind set when ordering a newbuild ship. Luis Benito, LR’s Global Marketing Manager says the LR survey shows at least that ports are getting ready for gas, saying:

"Ports want to be gas capable, and they are planning for a gas fuelled future. It seems the obvious challenge is availability at a competitive price. Will gas markets provide fuel that shipowners will buy? We believe that ports can make LNG available safely, but at what price? That’s what everybody wants to know."

Photo: Computer-generated image of dual fuel LNG pure car and truck carrier (PCTC), two of which have just been ordered by United European Car Carriers (UECC) from Kawasaki Heavy Industries (KHI) for construction at the NACKS shipyard in Nantong, China.