One of the big challenges in developing the first wave of European LNG bunker ships was finding a market in which to place them
When Engie set out to design a vessel to provide small-scale LNG bunkering in European ports in 2012, no one had any idea of exactly what it would look like. However, its designers did know that it had to be able serve a broad base of clients and a variety of ship types and bunker fuel wherever customers needed it.
The decision to build an LNG bunkering vessel was not made in a vacuum; rather, it came in the wake of tightening international emission regulations in the form of Emission Control Areas (ECAs) in the Baltic and North Seas, North America and the US Caribbean which reduced the allowable sulphur oxides (SOx) and nitrous oxides (NOx) from ship emissions. Clean-burning LNG was a viable solution for shipowners to meet the strict emissions requirements in these ECA zones
More recently, an abundance of cheap natural gas unleashed by the shale gas revolution in the US, expanding LNG infrastructure and the impending the IMO 0.5% global sulphur cap have made LNG an even more attractive long-term option as a marine fuel.
Well experienced in the LNG business as Europe’s second-largest operator of LNG terminals, Engie realised it needed to work with partners that could “de-risk” the development of the LNG bunker vessel. Hence, Engie partnered with Japan’s NYK Line, which fully or jointly owns a fleet of 74 LNG carriers, and Mitsubishi Corporation, Japan’s first importer of LNG. The companies formed a commercial brand, Gas4Sea, in 2016 to develop the use of LNG as a cost-effective, environmentally friendly alternative fuel to conventional oil-based marine fuels.
Another Gas4Sea partner was Fluxys, an independent Belgium-based operator of a high-pressure natural gas transmission network, natural gas storage infrastructure and the LNG terminal in Zeebrugge. Besides its pipeline, storage and LNG terminal assets in Belgium, Fluxys’ partnerships included ownership in the Interconnector and BBL pipelines linking the UK with mainland Europe, the Dunkirk LNG terminal in France, the NEL and TENP pipelines in Germany, the Transitgas pipeline in Switzerland, the Swedegas infrastructure in Sweden and the TAP pipeline from Turkey to Italy under construction to bring gas from Azerbaijan and potentially other sources to Europe.
Engie vice president LNG bunkering market Laurent Rambaud explained that owing to its focus on LNG bunkering in Northern France, UK, Antwerp and Rotterdam, the company realised it needed to adopt a flexible approach to the bunkering vessel, to allow it to serve the broad range of vessel types operated by potential customers in the region.
Engie Zeebrugge uses two Wartsila 9L20DF main engines that can burn marine gas oil, marine diesel or LNG
Each vessel type offered its own bunkering challenges, said Mr Rambaud. Roro car carriers, for instance, have high freeboard, closed bunker stations, and LNG tanks, with a capacity of 800 m3, whereas tankers have relatively low freeboards, bunker stations on their open decks for easy access and much bigger tanks are larger, with capacities of 2,000 m3.
Cruise ships are even more complex, said Mr Rambaud, because of their large LNG tanks with capacities of 3,000 m3, high freeboard, and the complications of passengers and crew onboard.
“Engie Zeebrugge is fitted with a gas chromatograph that precisely measures the composition of the LNG that is delivered to the customer”
Engie also contemplated serving LNG-fuelled container ships, though not anything on the scale of CMA CGM’s massive 22,000 TEU, LNG-fuelled container ships. “We focused on feeder container ships that would have to load containers while we were performing bunkering operations, said Mr Rambaud. The company did not address smaller vessels, since it thought the truck-to-ship fuelling option was the best bunkering solution in that instance.
“We also knew we needed to meet the customers where they are. That’s why we decided to develop a bunker vessel as opposed to an inland or port bunker barge,” he explained.
The result of this effort was the Engie Zeebrugge, built by Hanjin Heavy Industries in 2017, with two IMO type C LNG tanks with a total capacity of 5,100 m3. Managed by NYK LNG Shipmanagement (UK) ltd, the ship can discharge LNG at a flow rate 600m3/h using two pumps in each of its tanks. Shipboard cranes handle two flexible hoses, one for cryogenic liquid and the other for the return gas during filling operations. Four Yokohama fenders protect the Engie Zebrugge and the refuelling vessel during close quarters bunkering operations.
Classed by BV and flying the Belgian flag, the bunker vessel has an overall length of 107.6 m, beam of 18.4 m, depth of 9 m and draught of 4.7 m. It operates out of its home port of Zeebrugge, Belgium, where it loads LNG at the Fluxys LNG terminal, which commissioned a second jetty specifically designed for receiving small LNG carriers. The Engie Zeebrugge’s two Wartsila 9L20DF main engines can burn marine gas oil, marine diesel or LNG.
First year under the belt
Even after more than a year of operations, Mr Rambaud said that there is still room for learning and improvement, in terms of reducing the amount of time required for bunkering operations. He noted several factors that impact the amount of time it takes to bunker a vessel, such as the mooring operation, connecting the flexible hoses, access to the ship’s bunkering station and even the capacity restraints of the piping on the receiving vessel, which may not be able to handle the Engie Zebrugge’s high bunkering flowrate.
As a matter of building client trust, the Engie Zeebrugge is also fitted with a gas chromatograph that precisely measures the composition of the LNG that is delivered to the customer. “We are the only bunker ship that is fitted with such a device,” said Mr Rambald. “When you refuel a customer, you don’t unload all of your cargo; part of it remains on the bunker vessel. At some point you will need to reload at the LNG terminal [and] you will not be completely empty. This means you will mix different cargoes, which makes it impossible to know exactly the nature of the LNG onboard. With the gas chromatograph, you can know exactly what is delivered to the customer.”
Engie is proposing to invoice its customers based on the amount of energy it delivers, less any return vapour and energy consumed on board the vessel during bunkering operations.
In June 2017 in the port of Zeebrugge, Engie Zeebrugge performed its first deliveries of LNG to M/V Auto Eco and M/V Auto Energy, two new gas-propelled pure car and truck carriers owned by UECC. The LNG bunkering operations and loading of the dual-fuel PCTCs were conducted as simultaneous operations.
This past February, Marine LNG Zeebrugge, a joint venture of the Gas4Sea partners, Engie, Mitsubishi Corporation and NYK Line, has signed an agreement with Equinor to supply four crude shuttle tankers with LNG as marine fuel in the port of Rotterdam. The four planned dual-fuel vessels are to come into service in early 2020 and will be operated by Equinor in Northern European seas.