• 2014 May 21

    Liquefied but mobile

    Amid insufficient infrastructure for LNG bunkering and unclear prospects for the development of LNG powered shipping, experts propose the construction of bunkering vessels able to carry mobile gas tanks.

    Vicious lifering

    The approach of the date, January 1’15, when sulphur content in bunker fuel must be below 0.1% is inexorable.  Both foreign and Russian experts admit that natural gas (LNG) is the most optimal alternative to conventional heavy fuels.

    There are several alternatives to conventional fuels though. 

    The easiest way is to use light fuels. That is something the majority of ship owners are likely to begin with. However, this alternative has a number of drawbacks. As Mikhail Petrov, senior expert at Russian Maritime Register of Shipping, said at the seminar dedicated to the use of LNG, the transition to light fuels means resetting of engines, selection of other operation oils and reduction of intermaintenance periods. So, the expert thinks, the most technically reasonable solution is the use of liquefied natural gas.

    According to Kirill Bolotov, representative of Wartsila corporation, there are three types of LNG-powered engines including gas diesel engines, spark-ignited engines and multi-fuel engines. Gas diesel engines require high energy to start the engine, therefore auxiliary diesel engines are used. No emergency redundancy is the disadvantage of spark-ignited engines which results in the loss of way in case of failure of fuel-supply system.  Yet, multi-fuel engines are free frome the above disadvantages, Kirill Bolotov says.

    However, installation of such engines is reasonable for new vessels. Conversion of old vessels is labour-consuming and not profitable. So it will take time for fairly large number of LNG powered vessels to appear in the region of the Baltic Sea and the North Sea. No ‘inrush’ is likely over a couple of years. 

    Another problem appears in this context: bunkering infrastructure is required for ship owners to build LNG powered vessels which is driven by regular calls of such vessels. The situation reminds a vicious cycle. The European Union is set to ‘break out’ of it through a directive for all EU ports to create LNG bunkering points by 2020. There is no such a directive in Russia.

    Meanwhile, private business cannot afford building LNG bunkering vessels without a guaranteed demand. The matter is in both idle periods of such vessels which still require maintenance and in LNG itself which is a ‘perishable product’, it can be stored for no more than 2 weeks.

    Automobilization of shipping

    To break out of this ‘vicious cycle’ Krylov State Research Center has proposed building of vessels able to bunker ships with both oil products and liquefied gas. To prevent gas from evaporation in expectation of demand, they propose using of mobile tanks which can be delivered to / removed form a vessel when necessary.

    The technology of tank containers has already been developed but the Krylov Center proposes a different method – transportation of LNG tanks by trailers directly to ships. 

    As Anton Lutskevich, leading engineer at Krylov Center, told at the seminar, the Center had developed a design of a ro-ro vessel able to carry 14 trailers and bunker vessels with both LNG and oil products.

    The expert says that using of an uncrewed non-self-propelled barge fitted for carrying trailers and bunkering of vessels with LNG would be even cheaper. It could be towed by an ordinary tug-turner or by tug/barge towing arrangement for off-harbour operations or operation in ice conditions.

    Anton Lutskevich believes that such vessels with trailers could be useful at ports with low demand for LNG where LNG powered vessels do not call frequently.

    Meanwhile, the project on construction of LNG bunkering port in Gorskaya (Saint-Petersburg) implies the construction of twelve 2,500-tonne LNG bunkering vessels with estimated cost of RUB 650 mln each. 

    Vitaly Chernov

    Bunkering with alternative fuels including LNG is to be discussed at the VII All Russian Forum “Current State and Prospects for Development of Russian Bunker Services Market” which is to be held on June 19-20, 2014 in Saint-Petersburg. >>>>