• 2017 April 17

    Sovcomflot switches to gas

    Last week saw the event that had been expected for two years. SCF Group, in partnership with Shell, initiated the transfer of an entire segment of tanker market to more efficient, "green" technologies. In June 2018, SCF will start operating Aframax tankers powered by LNG. Experts agree that this decision opens a new phase in the development of maritime fleet.

    The first step towards new technologies was the agreement for the supply of liquefied natural gas (LNG) to fuel the world’s first Aframax tankers powered by LNG signed by Sovcomflot and Shell Western LNG B.V. (Shell) on 3 April. Sovkomflot says the first oil tanker of this kind is to be put into operation in mid-2018. The Russian company is a global leader in the segment of Aframax tankers. It is Sovcomflot that sets a new standard of navigation safety and quality, which is especially important for environmentally vulnerable regions in the seven seas.

    IМО requirements

    Environmental legislation in global shipping is getting tougher from year to year. Meanwhile, the new environmental requirements can facilitate an innovative breakthrough.

    Emissions of exhaust gases in shipping are limited by the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL, Annex VI). First of all, it is about limiting the emissions of sulfur oxides and nitrogen oxides. According to the MARPOL Convention, the SOx Emission Control Areas (SECAs) currently comprise the Baltic and the North Seas, the coasts of Canada and the United States, including the northern coast of the Gulf of Mexico. From 1 January 2015, sulfur content in any liquid fuel used to power vessels operating in SECAs should not exceed 0.1%. Outside SECAs, maximum sulfur content in marine fuel is 3.5%, which allows the use of conventional fuel oil.

    However, in three years the norms on SOx emissions will be much stricter. The IMO’s Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC) decided to set the 0.5% global sulfur cap on fuel oil used by ships outside SECAs from 2020. Reducing the sulfur content to 0.5% will make it impossible to use conventional marine fuel as bunker without additional processing of exhaust gases in special devices - scrubbers. Besides, experts think low-sulfur fuel can have an adverse effect on the technical condition of the ship's fuel system. With its lubricating properties sulphur actually improves the operation of fuel systems. Therefore, the use of low-sulfur fuel for several years can cause technical problems in fuel equipment. LNG is one of the most promising alternatives.

    "The scrubbing technology is cleaning resulting with acid residues. The technology foresees a special tank to collect acid that is supposed to be disposed of at seaports. Yet, there are no facilities for such waste in the ports. So, shipowners are expected to perform measured discharge of scrubber waste to the sea which is implemented in the design of such devices. Measured amount of acid is supposed to be neutralized in alkaline environment. But, in any case, acid discharge to the sea is not a perfect idea to ensure a comprehensive solution for reduction of emissions and environmental pollution. I do not rule out the appearance of a new convention to ban scrubbers", said Igor Tonkovidov.

    The NOx emission control areas (NECAs) are the coasts of the United States and Canada, as well as the territorial waters of the United States in the Caribbean Sea. Since 2021, the Baltic and the North Sea will also be designated as NECAs. The requirements for nitrogen oxides have already been significantly toughened. Under the Regulation 13 of MARPOL Annex VI, all vessels whose keels were laid after 1 January 2016 and working in NECAs should have diesel engines complying with the Tier III environmental standard, which will let reduce the level of nitrogen oxides by 80%.

    As of today, there are three technologies allowing for reduction of the NOx content to the level set by the MARPOL Convention. These are technologies of selective catalytic reduction of NOx by ammonia (SCR), exhaust gas recirculation system (EGR) and the use of alternative fuels. However, not all NOx reducing technologies available today are considered by experts as reliable and stable.

    “The first two variants imply the use of standard fuel in certain mixtures. However, the newly introduced requirements lead to fuel prices rise amid the growing consumption of distillate fuels. This is likely to lead to an increase in voyage costs, "explained Igor Tonkovidov, Executive Vice President of PAO Sovcomflot,  Technical Director of SCF Group.

    SCR technology implies the installation of special onboard equipment. SCR cleans exhausts by neutralizing nitrogen oxides through injection of urea. However, in rough sea conditions, application of the SCR technology can lead to a decrease in the efficiency of the catalytic reaction. In addition, this technology is inefficient at low engine rpm used for running at economical speeds and maneuvering in ports.

    In addition to the restrictions associated with sulfur and nitrogen oxides, a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions is on the agenda in the shipping industry. IMO MEPC 70 agreed on a roadmap towards the development of a comprehensive strategy on the reduction of GHG emissions from ships based on collection of fuel consumption data, those data analysis and development of measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from ships. The strategy is to be adopted by 2023. MEPC 70 also adopted a global data collection system for fuel consumption of ships which is to become applicable from 1 March 2018. 

    Anyway, the new environmental restrictions do not only set new challenges for shipping, but also encourage the responsible shipowners to search for the most effective, high-quality and safe technical solutions in the field of marine cargo transportation. Sometimes, there are quite interesting conceptual solutions among them, though they often feature a local application focus. An example is a recently announced plan of Maersk to fit their tankers with rotor sails.

    However, the experience shows that modernization of ships to make them comply with every new environmental standard would require application of much equipment and introduction of several sophisticated and expensive technologies. Transition to an alternative fuel, which will immediately reduce all types of emissions and make the ships comply with all newly introduced regulatory restrictions is a more effective solution.

    Effective solution

    Sovcomflot has applied a comprehensive approach to this issue and has opted for an alternative fuel - liquefied natural gas (LNG).

    The use of gas fuel for tankers significantly improves the environmental safety of ships and meets the expectations of both shipowners and charterers, who tend to make the transportation of goods safer for the environment. Engines running on LNG emit 90% less sulfur oxides (SOx), 80% less nitrogen oxides (NOx) and 15% less carbon dioxide (CO2) as compared with engines running on conventional heavy fuel.

    Besides, duel-fuel low-pressure X-DF engines have been selected for the new generation of Aframax tankers, which will ensure a minimized emission of low-dispersive particles. Ship power plants will also use the SCR technology allowing for the regulation of NOx emissions as required by the new Tier III standard (MARPOL Annex VI) if, for some operational reasons, tankers will have to be powered by liquid fuels.

    "We have found the optimal solution to reduce emissions and to meet all the existing and expected regulatory restrictions, with a positively effect on the economy of voyages, - Sovcomflot representative told IAA PortNews. - By switching to gas, we protect the environment and solve the task of transport transfer to gas fuel as set up by the government."

    The innovative technical solutions chosen by Sovcomflot let its fleet not only comply with the international emission standards, but also exceed them. Thus, the market sets a new standard of shipping quality, which is especially important for environmentally vulnerable regions in the seven seas. 

    Construction of the first LNG-powered tanker for Sovcomflot will begin in 2017. The conceptual design has been developed by the technical specialists of Sovcomflot with active involvement of Far Eastern Shipbuilding and Ship Repair Center OJSC, which, together with the technological partner of shipbuilding complex Zvezda – Hyundai Heavy Industries (Republic of Korea) – is going to establish local production of such large capacity vessels of the new generation in Russia, at Bolsoi Kamen (Primorsky Territory) starting from 2020. 

    The economy works

    According to Igor Tonkovidov, the construction of an LNG-powered Aframax tanker at current prices is about 20% more expensive than the construction of a similar tanker running on conventional oil fuel. At the same time, when operating an LNG-powered tanker, shipowners can save up to 20% on fuel (compared to diesel fuel when operating in areas where the use heavy fuel oil is unacceptable), hence time-charter equivalent is 35-40% higher.

    "To a large extent, the economy depends on the right choice of a technical solution, - continued the top manager of Sovcomflot. - Gas evaporates, it should be constantly put to good use. We use LNG in all power plants of the ship: the main engine, the electric power plant and the boiler. All the three main consumers use gas. The amount of naturally evaporating gas that we have on board the ship is absolutely correlated to the needs of the ship's electric power plant. Thus, we guarantee 100% use of gas without losing a single gramme."

    Sovcomflot ships will be the world’s first tankers of this type, designed specially for operation on gas fuel. Deadweight of each of the new tankers will be 114,000 t, they will have an ice class of 1A, which ensures round-the-year  and safe shipping of export cargo from the regions with ice conditions including the subarctic seas. 

    As Igor Tonkovidov told PortNews IAA, the amount of gas on board is 800 tons (about 1,700 cubic meters) according to current specification. This is enough for a cruising range of 21 days with operation on gas at full speed. Taking into consideration the duel-fuel design of the power plant the tanker can take on board an additional fuel oil stock of about 2,000 t, providing an additional endurance of about 50 days. "That is enough for us. The planned round voyage of the new tanker will take about 10-12 days, - said Tonkovidov. - At the first stage we plan a limited number of such vessels. They will transport cargo in areas where there is a guaranteed supply of LNG. First of all, it is the Baltic and the North Seas. The future plans cover the Gulf of Mexico, where the LNG bunkering market is growing rapidly."

    Nadezhda Malysheva