While battling to protect its intellectual property, French cryogenic tank designer lands new tank orders from South Korean shipyards
Despite an ongoing battle with the Korea Fair Trade Commission over a ruling that could force it to relinquish some of its intellectual property, French cryogenic tank designer GTT continues to gain orders from South Korean shipyards.
In late December, right in the middle of a flurry of legal activity over the commission’s decision, GTT booked a plum contract from Hyundai Heavy Industries (HHI) and Hyundai Samho Heavy Industries (HSHI) for tanks to be installed in four LNG carriers.
A few days later – on 6 January 2021 – the Seoul High Court granted GTT’s motion to suspend the effect of the commission’s decision announced last November. The commission promptly appealed and, in late January, the Supreme Court of Korea was reviewing the case.
The outcome promises to have important implications for the fast-developing cryogenic tank industry. If the commission has its way, South Korean shipyards would take over all or some of the technical assistance services that currently form a key element of the entire technology licence. The basis of the commission’s argument is that GTT’s practices are anti-competitive.
In effect, the dispute is over who retains intellectual property. As LNG Shipping & Terminals reported in December, GTT argues that the licence of the technology and the technical assistance constitute an inseparable offering which guarantees the overall integrity of its technologies. Any separation of these could be detrimental to the entire LNG carrier industry, GTT insists.
“We are convinced that our commercial practices comply with the South Korea competition rules,” said GTT chairman and chief executive Philippe Berterottière at the time of the original decision.
Meantime, developments – and the resulting intellectual property – in cryogenic tank technology continues to gather pace with the rush of orders for newbuild LNG carriers and LNG-fuelled vessels. In GTT’s latest contract from HHI and HSHI, Mark III Flex membrane containment systems will be installed on the four vessels, each with a capacity of 174,000m³. Deliveries are scheduled for Q3 and Q4 2024. It’s a measure of the frenetic pace of activity that these bring GTT’s total number of orders for LNG carrier newbuilds in 2020 to 41.
Refining tank technology
Never a company to rest on its laurels, GTT continues to refine its technology. One of its prime goals is to develop membrane technologies that match the natural boil-off as closely as possible to engine consumption requirements. “[The aim] is that LNG use as fuel is optimised,” the company said. “This was the reason for the development of the Mark III Flex, which achieves boil-off rates of 0.085% of cargo volume per day, and of the Mark III Flex+, that achieves boil-off rates of 0.07%, so that the recent introduction of the more efficient ME-GI and X-DF engines could be catered for.”
Asked whether further refinements are in the pipeline, the company added: “Future improvements in engine efficiency in the short to medium term are unlikely, but with the arrival of the Energy Efficiency Design Index (EEDI) and its retrofit cousin, Energy Efficiency Existing Ship Index (EEXI), and concerns over CO2 emissions, GTT continues to look at ways to minimise LNG consumption.”
According to GTT, this could come from improvements in the insulation performance of the systems that would have a much wider application than for LNG carriers. “[These improvements] would be not only for LNG carriers but also for LNG-fuelled commercial vessels. These will have smaller fuel tanks than LNG carriers and may require better insulation for the vessel’s specific fuel consumption,” the company said.
AiP for prismatic Type B tanks
Meantime South Korea’s Hyundai Mipo Dockyard (HMD) could have achieved a breakthrough with its prismatic IMO type B tank, a design aimed directly at the mid-sized LNG carrier market. A space-saving concept, the tank has received approval in principle (AiP) from Lloyds Register (LR), which conducted crack propagation analysis among other rigorous assessments, and will be installed in a 30,000m³ carrier. HMD’s managing director of the design division, Young-Joon Nam, has high expectations for the system: “Our design is expected to gain a competitive edge in terms of its scalable applicability in the mid-sized LNG carrier market.”
With a full name of Hyundai Prismatic Independent IMO Type B Excellence (HiPIX), the tank was assessed by LR’s digital experts against its proprietary ShipRight procedures under what is known as digital health management (DHM).
“This approval sets HHI on the path to become a DHM provider to the maritime industry, offering customers the possibility to operate and maintain their ship’s Type B gas containment tanks in an optimal, cost-effective way while complying with classification and statutory requirements,” LR summarises.
But there’s a way to go yet. According to LR, the shipbuilder still has to develop a complete structural DHM system for the tank as it builds the world’s first dual-fuelled ultra-large container ships in what is an ongoing process. The nub of the solution is that the essential structural integrity of the tank is assured by the use of digital twin technology and data, replacing time- and labour-consuming physical surveys.
The benefits for shipowners should fall straight to the bottom line, according to LR. “This will provide shipowners with an advantage when securing charterer contracts by lowering the through-life costs of the containment tank while maintaining a high level of safety and reliability,” the class society maintains.
Digital twin technology, already much used by the oil and gas industry in, for instance, the design and construction of giant floating rigs, lies at the heart of HiPIX. The digital twin’s ability to process real-time data and generate insights on the health condition of the gas containment tank should improve maintenance effectiveness. In just one example, the technology allows operators to spot emerging faults through accurate tracking and take steps to fix them before they become costly failures.
The classification society also has high expectations for the digital system. “A new paradigm in shipping has started,” enthused LR’s marine and offshore innovation and co-creation director, Luis Benito, citing remote servicing, maintenance and testing of critical equipment in ways that improve ship safety.
Under IMO regulations, a type B tank is one of three categories of independent or self-supporting tanks that do not form part of the ship’s hull and are therefore not critical to the hull’s strength.
And they have been around for a while. For historians of LNG containment systems, it was Ishikawajma Heavy Industries (IHI) that pioneered self-supporting prismatic tanks. Two early vessels fitted with these rectangular tanks are Polar Eagle and Arctic Sun, both 87,500-m³ vessels built in 1993. Later, ABS gave approval in principle to a type B cylindrical tank with spherical dished ends developed by Houston-based Ocean LNG.
With LNG promising to be more than a bridge fuel, thanks to advances in recent designs, more innovations in containment systems and ship design are likely in the next few years in the continuing quest for cleaner propulsion. ABS head of global sustainability Georgios Plevrakis wrote in a study in January: “For owners considering vessel orders in the next five years, the choice is effectively between LNG, methanol and LPG, since these will provide a pathway to carbon neutral and ultimately zero carbon fuels.” Mr Plevrakis estimates that by 2030, owners can expect available options of carbon neutral fuels “will be sufficient to provide them with the required blending capacity.”
Peanut-shaped Type C fuel tank optimised for retrofits
Oldenburg, German-headquartered ship designer HB Hunte Engineering may be onto a winner with its radical new Bi-Nut tank. A combination of bi-lobe and peanut, the name derives from the tank’s more flexible shape that the manufacturer believes will be snapped up by the retrofit market and newbuilds, where space is a top priority. That’s why the German firm, which has four decades of experience in the design of Type C pressure vessels, has concentrated on a tank shape that is highly flexible.
“A major challenge in the [shipbuilding] project phase is to optimise the tank size for various geometries of the available space on board different ship types,” explained Hunte Engineering managing director Frerk Brand, citing cruise liners and passenger ships with restricted deck heights, where a conventional Type C tank would fill potentially revenue-earning areas.
In time the Bi-Nut concept could be used for newbuilds, predicts the firm’s head of calculations and tank design, Christoph Flaig.
Meantime, expedition cruise line Hurtigruten has commissioned three Bi-Nut tanks that are currently under construction at Stahlbau Nord and Bredo Dry Docks. According to HB Hunte: “[The tanks] are intended to revolutionise the storage of fuel on board ships. The special cross-sectional shape of the new tank should be significantly more flexible in terms of different width-height ratios in the tank compartment.”
According to the latest release, the first tank has been finished and water pressure tested and foam insulation added alongside other equipment.
The design has been approved to DNV GL rules.