Alternative fuels: State of play and plans discussed at London forum

Alternative fuels: State of play and plans discussed at London forum

Stena now has two years, and more than 2000 hours, experience with methanol as fuel on the ro-pax vessel Stena Germanica, Brittany Ferries is preparing to run a ro-ro vessel on LNG, while Shell is making headway with plans to offer LNG as part of its global marine fuels offering. The “2020: Getting down to business” forum, jointly organised by IBIA and UK Chamber of Shipping in April, heard how these fuels may play a role as shipping prepares for more stringent emission regulations.

Sweden-based Stena, whose ferries operate mainly within emission control areas (ECAs), has already looked at several options, Per Stefenson, Marine Standards Advisor, Stena Rederi, told the forum. It has assessed continuous operation on marine gas oil (MGO), installing scrubbers, and three new fuelling alternatives: LNG, methanol, and more recently the latest new option; electricity, which Stefenson said is now coming in quickly.

The company looked at LNG and dismissed conversion because it is too expensive. Methanol, however, had clear advantages including being relatively easy to handle as it is liquid at ambient temperatures (unlike LNG), which made for an easier conversion. Conversion of the vessel to install the methanol tank and fuel system took six weeks at a yard. The dual-fuel engine accounted for about one third of the conversion cos, with the rest spent on other retrofits such as tanks and piping.

When Stena decided to trial methanol, it was economically attractive because MGO was priced at around $900 per metric tonne at the time. Currently it is not economic as MGO prices are about 50% lower compared to 2015.

There are issues. Methanol is a low flash point fuel and it is toxic, but so is gasoline, Stefenson noted. Operationally, adjustments must be done because it has low viscosity “and no lubricity at all”, while the corrosive nature means using it requires special tanks and piping. It also has low energy content at about half that of oil-based fuels.

Stena Germanica is a true dual-fuel vessel, Stefenson said. It can shift seamlessly from methanol to MGO with no interruption in operations.

After 2000 running hours, the experience has been good. There were some technical issues, for example due to low viscosity causing some fuel leaks initially. Overall, there have been very few technical issues, but when they occur they are time consuming, Stefenson said.

Asked whether Stena is expanding this fuel solution to other ships, Stefenson said that with today’s oil prices it doesn’t make sense to convert to methanol “so we are just gaining experience”.

Stefenson said one of the reasons methanol is so expensive is that the product they run on today is a pure 100% chemical and “too clean”, adding that Stena has looked into whether it is possible to obtain a less pure “fuel grade” methanol.

The forum heard from Peter Clark, Manager, Project Execution, Shell Shipping & Maritime about the oil major’s progress toward offering LNG bunkering services.

Clark said Shell plans to supply a full range of fuels come 2020, including high sulphur fuel oil to ships using scrubbers, DMA MGO, very low sulphur fuel oils (for both 0.10% and 0.50% sulphur limits) and LNG. Shell claims to “hold industry leadership in LNG” and is developing a global LNG bunker supply network.

The current focus is on Rotterdam, Singapore and specific locations in the Middle East and the United States. The locations are linked to customer demand; further bunker locations could be considered.

Shell is supporting growth in LNG fuel for the marine market in various ways, having bought Norwegian LNG bunker supplier Gasnor, by chartering dual-fuelled inland barges and chartering LNG-powered offshore supply vessels.

In 2014, Shell ordered a bunker vessel to deliver LNG to marine customers in Europe which will lift LNG bunker cargoes at the GATE LNG terminal in Rotterdam.  The GATE LNG bunker vessel will have seagoing capacity, meaning it can service ships outside the Amsterdam-Rotterdam-Antwerp region. The vessel should be able supply LNG bunkers at 1,000 m3/h which is comparable to current conventional high capacity bunkering operations. The vessel is expected to be ready for operation early in the second half of 2017.

Bunkering is one of the main constraints for LNG-fuelled ships at present, with most refuelling being done by truck, with the limitations this entails for parcel size and delivery speed.

The IBIA/UK Chamber of Shipping forum heard from Vincent Coquen, Energy and sustainable development manager at Brittany Ferries, about how it intends to solve the practicalities of operating one of its ferries on LNG.

The company’s fuel solution was to use mobile LNG tanks on deck, which can work because it is a ro-ro ship, Coquen said. All other LNG fuelling options it looked at were either not practical or too expensive, including shore to ship, truck to ship, ship to ship, and mobile tank on shore.

The plan is to have a total of four LNG tanks of 40 m3 available. Each tank on deck will have enough fuel for two journeys. The vessel will make three journeys each day between France and the UK, so the changeover from empty to full LNG containers needs to be quick – approximately 15 minutes, Coquen said.

Its other ships are currently usually bunkered one to three times per week, so using LNG will entail more frequent bunkering movements and will clearly need to be carefully planned.

LNG and methanol ticks many boxes when it comes to reducing air pollution

All the presenters highlighted the environmental benefits of methanol and LNG in terms of reduced air pollution and potential CO2 emission reductions, although the latter depends very much on how the fuel is produced when looking at life-cycle emissions.

Initiatives to run ships on cleaner fuels in Europe are benefitting from financial support from the European Union, which is subsidising such efforts. For example, the TEN-T project makes funding available for construction of LNG infrastructure and related stakeholders.

Report by Unni Einemo

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