There is little doubt now that LNG will play a critical role in the clean energy transition for decades to come.
This is particularly true in the LNG as a marine fuel sector, where the global fleet of LNG-fuelled ships in operation or under construction has grown to almost to 500 vessels. This year has seen a particularly strong uptake of LNG-fuelled tonnage in the oceangoing sector, notably in orders for ultra-large container ships, crude oil tankers and chemical/product tankers. This is a distinct difference from the pioneering days of the DNV-classed Glutra (which recently celebrated its 21st birthday), when LNG-fuelled vessels were mostly car ferries and offshore support vessels.
The current order book of 295 LNG-fuelled newbuildings includes 59 container ships, 58 crude oil tankers, 31 product/chemical tankers, 30 cruise ships, 23 bulk carriers, 11 roros and numerous other types of oceangoing and coastal vessels, according to DNV’s Alternative Fuel Insights.
Pulling the plug on further investments in LNG bunkering infrastructure – as the World Bank has advocated – is not a sound strategy. It would undermine investments made by shipowners in decarbonising their fleets and delay further efforts to immediately cut CO2 emissions.
Ship operators need surety when deciding on alternative fuels that will help them meet the ambitious greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction targets set by IMO for 2030 and 2050. LNG as a fuel is widely available, very cost competitive, a proven technology with a sound safety record and maturing regulatory framework.
Additionally, while still a fossil fuel, LNG does offer a pathway to carbon-neutral bioLNG. A paper jointly released last year by the European Biogas Association, Gas Infrastructure Europe, the Natural & Bio Gas Vehicle Association and SEA/LNG points the way to further CO2 reductions using bioLNG.
“LNG is a proven technology, with a sound safety record and maturing regulatory framework”
Availability of bioLNG will grow, with production in the European Union expected to increase tenfold by 2030, according to the paper.
Using 20% of bioLNG mix in maritime transport would reduce CO2 emissions by up to 34%. As Total pointed out during its recent Marine LNG Forum, bioLNG is already in use in the shipping sector. In November, the largest LNG-fuelled vessel in the world, the 23,000-TEU CMA CGM Jacques Saade, was bunkered in the Port of Rotterdam with 17,300 m3 of LNG, of which 13% was bioLNG.
BioLNG does not require any modifications to an LNG-fuelled vessel and can be transported using the existing LNG infrastructure, with no technological adaptations or additional costs. Supporting new LNG infrastructure – whether it is in the form of new bunker vessels or small-scale LNG terminals – is fundamental to ensure the availability of bioLNG in the years ahead.
There are 31 LNG bunker vessels in operation and another 20 under construction. And more are needed to support the surge in new LNG-fuelled tonnage. A poll conducted during a recent Riviera Maritime Media webinar suggests many in the industry agree. When asked: ‘Are there enough bunker vessels in service?’, 91% of respondents replied ‘No.’
Further to the point, a second poll asked: ‘The industry’s preferred propulsion choice in 30 years will be….’ – 42% of respondents chose LNG, 26% ammonia, 24% hydrogen, 5% scrubbers and 5% other.
While hydrogen and ammonia offer exciting possibilities as zero-carbon future fuels, both still must address all of the same operational, technological, regulatory, safety and commercial viability challenges that LNG had to meet in its adoption by shipping. While LNG is not the perfect solution, it is the right solution for this generation of ships in the battle to meet GHG reduction targets and reduce CO2 emissions.