The Rise of Liquefied Natural Gas as a Shipping Fuel
In recent years, there has been a push to stop using Heavy Fuel Oil in the shipping industry. This is driven by a number of factors such as the increasing affordability of Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG), the desire to move away from more dangerous fuels, as well as public awareness and government action towards regulating the less desirable heavy fuels.
Therefore, in 2019, there was a massive shift towards LNG being used as a standard fuel in the shipping industry worldwide.
A Diversity of Ships Using LNG
By early 2018, 20% of the world’s cruise ships were using or being slated to use LNG as their fuel. The world’s first LNG-fuelled cruise ship, Carnival’s AIDAnova, entered service that year. After its successful maiden voyage, Carnival ordered a further seven LNG-powered cruise ships to be operational by the end of 2022.
Additionally, by the end of 2018 there were a total of 143 LNG-powered vessels in operation worldwide, which included tankers, cruise ships, containers, vehicle carriers as well as Very Large Ore Carriers (VLOCs). Some of the more prominent ships from the line-up included ESL Shipping’s DWT bulker Haaga, Crowley’s combination container/roll on-roll off (ConRo) El Coqui, Sovcomflot’s Gagarin Prospect and the passenger ferry Munsterland, which serves the island of Borkum in Lower Saxony, from the Netherlands.
The Expansion of LNG Bunkering Facilities Worldwide
Bunkering is a shipping industry term used to describe the process of loading and supplying fuel onto ships. In the days of steam ships, coal was kept in bunkers on the ships. When fuel is pumped onto a ship, it is first pumped into a main bunker and then distributed to the other bunker tanks around the ship.
Before a ship can leave port, it must be deemed seaworthy. A part of this requirement is that the ship is completely fuelled up (or bunkered) at the beginning of the journey. A ship cannot just stop to refuel at a port unless there is a written agreement permitting interruption of the voyage. If this agreement is not obtained beforehand, then the voyage interruption is classed as a ‘deviation’, which is a serious breach of contract. If a vessel runs out of fuel mid-ocean, then insurers cancel their policy and consignees can make a cargo claim, which can give rise to a salvage situation. These strict regulations are why it is imperative that bunkering facilities in ports around the world must be upgraded to allow ships to adequately prepare for long ocean journeys.
As recently as 2017, there was only a single LNG bunker vessel operating worldwide, but was quickly expanded to a total of 30, which are now operational in key ports in Asia, Europe, the Middle East, and North America. The world’s largest LNG bunker vessel, the beastly Kairos, weighing in at 7,500 cubic metres began operations in northwest Europe and was quickly dwarfed by an even mightier 18,500 cubic metre LNG bunker launched by SEA\LNG member Total, to supply CMA-CGM’s new fleet of 22,000 TEU container ships.
Furthermore, the European Union has spent 53 million Euros to make bunkering possible in six major ports in the Mediterranean, from Athens to Venice. The success of this project led to the joint BlueHUBS program between Greece and Cyprus.
Turkey, Spain and France are expanding their ports and soon LNG bunkering facilities will be available from Marseilles to Istanbul. Shell began importing LNG to Gibraltar in early 2019. LNG operations are being endorsed by Asian governments in ports in South Korea, Japan, Singapore and China. Singapore is already the world’s largest bunkering port and it will soon become the world’s largest LNG bunkering facility as well.
Expansion Means Tighter Legislation
The expansion of ports to include LNG bunkering facilities has led to tighter legislation regarding marine fuel compliance. The IMO’s Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC) has imposed a ban on carrying Heavy Fuel Oil unless the ship is fitted with appropriate scrubber technology. Further to that, both Singapore and China have pioneered regulations in many ports that prohibit ships from dumping the wash-water from scrubbing bunkers in their coastal waters.
The MEPC has also begun measuring Greenhouse Gas emissions from ocean vessels since the start of 2019, so any further legislation will be based on accurate data. The European Union is considering expanding their Emission Control Area to include the entire Mediterranean Sea. This essentially means that ships entering the Mediterranean will need to comply with the EU’s rules and regulations regarding carbon emissions.
The Future Outlook
The maritime industry has unanimously agreed and adopted LNG as the best option to fuel maritime commerce and trade; there are no other fuel alternatives that can match LNG’s emissions profile and scalability. As this widespread take-up has occurred the industry is also confident that the world’s supply and demand needs can be met in a timely manner.
Due to this positive outlook, the price of LNG is expected to go down, which makes it even more feasible for shipping operators to expand their businesses with lowered costs. Overall, LNG offers a 24-percent more energy output per tonne than HFOs.
LNG adoption has been so successful in the shipping industry that there is an industry-wide, global cooperation on the transition. Operators of bunkering facilities, extraction plants, logistics crews, refineries and vessels have reacted positively to the new technology and have pushed forward with the support of the public, governments and private enterprises in the changeover from heavy fuels and sulphur based fuels. LNG will, over the coming decades, provide a good solution for shipping companies that will also reduce pollution such as noxious nitrogen, sulphur oxides and GHG emissions.