Following ground-breaking introductions of road tanker loading and cargo reloads, Iberian terminals are now being adapted for LNG bunkering
The seven operational LNG import terminals ringing the Iberian coastline were among the first in the world to add multifunctional services, beyond the basic regasification capability. Between them, the Sines terminal in Portugal and the Bilbao, Mugardos, Huelva, Cartagena, Sagunto and Barcelona facilities in Spain account for about one-third of Europe’s LNG import capacity.
Because Spain has always relied on road tanker deliveries of LNG to remote customers not linked to the gas grid, vehicle loading bays were provided at its terminals as a matter of course. Spanish terminals dispatch around 45,000 road tanker loads annually.
The country also became the world’s leading supplier of reload cargoes earlier this decade when European LNG imports stagnated and demand for the product elsewhere expanded. This was particularly true in the case of Japan where the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami forced the closure of the country’s 50-plus nuclear plants and a turn to LNG as an electricity-generating substitute.
Sines in Portugal and all the Spanish facilities have a cargo-reloading capability, which requires relatively minor modification of a terminal’s infrastructure. European LNG reloads peaked in 2014 when the region’s import terminals put 6M tonnes on ships for re-export. Spain accounted for 4M tonnes of the total, while 42% of Europe’s re-exports were dispatched to Asia where customers were paying premium prices.
European re-exports have declined in recent years, as the gap between LNG prices in Asia and Europe has narrowed. However, reloading has taken on a new, smaller-scale dimension at most of the Iberian terminals, where a vessel bunkering service has either been added or is under development.
Co-funded by the European Commission, the CORE LNGas hive project has been launched to drive the establishment of an Iberian LNG bunkering network and the initiative is co-ordinated by Spain’s Enagás, operator of the Bilbao, Huelva, Cartagena, Sagunto and Barcelona terminals. Truck-to-ship bunkering transfers to LNG-powered vessels have already been made in several Spanish ports but emphasis is now being placed on terminal enhancements to support not only the loading of small-scale carriers and LNG bunker vessels but also, for some facilities, the direct bunkering of LNG-powered ships.
The reloading capabilities of the Cartagena terminal were enhanced in 2017, when the loading flow rate was increased to 7,222 m3/hour. In April 2017 the LNG-powered bitumen tanker Damia Desgagnés was bunkered at the site with 370 m3 of LNG. This was the first time a ship had been bunkered at a European terminal with LNG directly, using the facility’s cryogenic tank-to-jetty pipework, hoses and a dedicated jetty.
Work to adapt the existing marine jetty at Bilbao was also finalised during 2017. Able to handle large and small-scale reloading and bunkering operations, the Bilbao terminal can now accommodate vessels with LNG capacities ranging from 600 m3 to 270,000 m3.
Spain’s first ship-to-ship LNG bunkering operation was carried out in Bilbao in February 2018. The fuelling involved the transfer of cryogenic liquid from the converted LNG/oil bunker barge Oizmendi to the dual-fuel cement carrier Ireland. Oizmendi had taken the LNG on board earlier at the Bilbao terminal.
Following the breakthrough Bilbao operation, Oizmendi, operated by the bunker fuel supplier Cepsa, was transferred to its permanent base of operations at Huelva in southern Spain. For the moment the two 300 m3 bunker tanks on Oizmendi are to be filled with LNG transferred from the Huelva LNG terminal by road tanker.
Flexible hoses have been identified as the optimum way for the Sagunto and Barcelona terminals to load smaller vessels at their existing jetties, at least initially, while Barcelona is also set for its own converted LNG bunker barge. At Mugardos the construction of a new jetty is under study, as is an adaptation of the existing jetty facility to enable the handling of small-scale traffic.