LNG as fuel: Managing change through training

Introduction

The Greek philosopher Heraclitus once remarked that the only constant in life is change. We all face changes every day, whether it is a simple change in the weather, in our schedule or something completely unexpected. Change affects us all and each of us deals with it differently. As the only “constant” in life, it is sure to happen. The IMO has adopted a strategy aimed at reducing greenhouse gases (GHG) from shipping by 50% by 2050, compared to 2008 levels. This comes on top of the previously established NOx and SOx caps. Tier III talks about NOx reduction to as low as 3.4 grammes per kW hour. Furthermore, the IMO may continue to impose new limitations. So we need a fuel that can best address SOx, NOx and GHG reduction. Looking ahead to 2050, LNG is a known readily available intermediate fuel. It is a safe, mature, commercially viable marine fuel offering significant GHG reduction benefits and a potential pathway to a zero-emissions shipping industry. As of today, there are not many alternatives that can match its emissions profile and cost efficiency.

Best return on investment

LNG is a very efficient form of energy, providing 48,000 to 55,000 kJ per kg, compared to HSFO at 39,000 to 41,000. The current standard global price for natural gas is USD 3 per million British thermal units (MMBtu). On that basis, LNG produced from Henry Hub gas, the world’s cheapest, is consistently less expensive than HSFO, let alone the costlier low sulphur fuel oil.

Key Points

LNG’s viability stems from

• Best return on investment

• Expected rise in LNG power

• Promising results.

Expected rise in LNG power

2018 saw a change in attitude towards LNG as a marine fuel. In June 2019 there were 163 LNG-fuelled vessels in operation (excluding over 500 LNG carriers) and a further 155 on order. By February 2020 these numbers had increased to 175 in operation and 203 on order, with a further 141 LNG-ready vessels in operation.

Orders for LNG-fuelled vessels span a variety of vessel types including tankers, cruise ships, container ships, car carriers and Very Large Ore Carriers. One major classification society estimates that the proportion of LNG in the global marine fuel mix will rise from currently less than 0.3 percent to over 10 percent by 2030, and to 23 percent by 2050.

The misconception that LNG adoption is a bit slower compared to scrubbers is partially explained by the fact that scrubbers can be retrofitted on an existing ship, whereas engineering a ship from oil to LNG-fuelled is more difficult, due to the stringent IGF code requirements. Therefore, unlike with scrubbers, there will be no sudden burst of LNG-fuelled ship orders, though retrofitting of LNG fuel systems has picked up. The 15,000 TEU Hapag-Lloyd vessel “SAJIR” was the first large container vessel to be converted to dual-fuel operation, with MAN Energy Solutions converting an HFO-burning MAN B&W 9S90ME-C engine to a dual-fuel MAN B&W ME-GI (Gas Injection) engine.

Promising results

According to Chalmers University of Technology, scrubber exhaust effluent is creating a pollution shift from air to seawater.
LNG is the cleanest burning fossil fuel form. It emits almost zero sulphur and particulate matter and achieves approximately 85 percent nitrogen oxide emission reductions. It also results in a 27 percent carbon emission reduction, compared to current fuels, and unlike HFO it cannot be adulterated.

Bunkering Methods

There are three main types of LNG bunkering methods. It can be transferred from a truck to the ship (“truck-to-ship”) using a flexible hose, from a ship to another ship (“ship-to-ship”) and from a land-based tank or terminal to the ship (“shore-to-ship”).

The truck-to-ship method involves limited costs and is relatively flexible, as trucks can also be used to supply other things that burn LNG. For this reason, and while the LNG bunkering infrastructure is in its early stages of development, the truck-to-ship method is currently the most prominent.

The ship-to-ship method is the most flexible in terms of location and has a high flow rate, i.e. the rate at which the LNG can be transferred. However, it is expensive infrastructure to build and operate.

The shore-to-ship infrastructure can be created by modifying existing LNG terminals or installing tanks using fixed LNG pipelines. This method is best for ports with stable and substantial bunkering demand, and also for coastal trading vessels as they pass ports more frequently.

The first LNG bunkering course was conducted on 22 and 23 January 2021, at Marine Advanced Simulation and Training, part of our own in-house training centre, for the takeover crew of an oil tanker fitted with LNG-fuelled engines. The training consisted of theoretical classroom lectures and exercises on a full mission LNG engine and LNG bunkering simulator.

These courses, at both basic and advanced levels, have been developed to train officers and engineers on the safety and operational aspects of LNG bunkering, providing them with well-simulated bunkering scenarios so they can gain knowledge on this comparatively new aspect of ship operations.

Considering the increasing demand for LNG-fuelled vessels, it is imperative that seafarers complete the STCW Basic Course and obtain the Basic Level Certificate of Proficiency. This will certainly enhance their employability and increase opportunities for getting posted on LNG-fuelled vessels.

Conclusion

LNG is becoming progressively more viable as an alternative and represents a significant shift from the current operating environment. Safe usage of LNG as a marine fuel, expanding the LNG infrastructure worldwide and swiftly tackling the concerns about its supply all need to be effectively addressed to make this an enduring reality. Likewise, the crew need to be trained in the safety aspects of handling LNG as fuel. I conclude with the ever-inspiring words of Mahatma Gandhi: “Be the change you want to see”.

About :

Dr Sairam K is presently Senior Technical Superintendent with MOL SYN training center. He was a sailing Chief Engineer with Great Eastern and has over 15 years of experience in teaching. He has completed his research in Fuels and authored technical articles in peer-reviewed international journals. “God is in the details” is his belief.