Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) carriers are part of the LNG chain, which is based onthree links:
the liquefaction terminal, in the producing country, which purifies, liquefies andstores (under ambient pressure and cryogenic temperature) the natural gas prior to itsloading into the LNG carrier,
the LNG carriers, which ship the LNG from the loading terminal to the off-loadingone,
the regasification terminal, in the gas consuming country, which stores, pressurisesand regasifies the LNG prior to injecting it into the gas pipe, which distributes it tothe gas consumers.In LNG carriers, the liquefied gas is stored in a boiling state, at cryogenic temperature(- 160°C) slightly above the atmospheric pressure in insulated tanks. Due to the heat leaksgetting though this insulation into the liquefied gas, a part of the cargo is boiling off thetanks (typically 0,1 to 0,3 % per day).To avoid wastage of this boil off vapours, the thermal performance of the insulation isusually optimised so that the boil off vapours flow can be used to provide part of theship's propulsion needs when it is on its way. For this purpose the propulsion system is of a dual type, compatible with the use as fuel of either the heavy oil either, when available,the natural gas boil off vapours coming from the cargo tanks.When the ship propulsion requirements are reduced, during harbour manoeuvres or atanchor for example, the boil off vapours exceeds the propulsion needs, although the cargotank pressure has to be kept within acceptable limits. To dispose of this excess boil off and avoid a pressure rise in the cargo tanks, several strategies can be considered :
implement an on board re liquefaction plant which re liquefies the vapours and sendback to the cargo tanks the boil off vapours in a liquefied state.
dispose of this excess boil off by burning it in an on board thermal oxidisercomplying with safety and environmental regulations which do not allow directrelease of natural gas into the atmosphere for both safety and environmentalconcerns (green house gas effect of methane which is very significantly higher thanthe one of carbon dioxide).
The standard approach : steam turbine propulsion
Up to now, most LNG carriers strategy has been to use for this reason a steam turbinepropulsion system as it allows to use either heavy oil or boil off vapours for fuel, thesteam boiler being equipped with heavy oil and natural gas burners. This propulsionsystem had the further advantage that the excess boil vapours could be disposed of directly in the steam boiler, the corresponding excess steam being sent to the sea watercooled condenser rather than to the propulsion turbine, without requiring any specificequipment, other than a bypass valve towards the condenser to fulfil this additional boiloff disposal function.