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CoTE Focus: LNG and gas carrier ship technology

18 January 2014
A significant innovation at the Gastech exhibition is a series of free-to-attend theatres dedicated
to delivering knowledge, education and awareness of technological innovations in natural gas. At
the next Gastech in South Korea in March, these Centres of Technical Excellence (CoTEs) will
feature over 60 seminars at which industry leaders will showcase their latest developments. In
advance of these seminars, Gastech News has asked them for their views on key industry trends.
Here, we examine their replies on the theme of LNG and gas carrier ship technology, focusing on
floating liquefaction and regasification and trends in gas carrier propulsion systems.
From both technology and commercial perspectives these are exciting times for the LNG and LPG
shipping industries. And one of the most exciting developments is the growing trend for liquefaction
of natural gas and regasification of LNG to be carried out offshore. Offshore regas has become well
established, with the number of projects set to grow significantly over coming years. What we are
seeing now is the construction of the first three floating production, storage and offloading (FPSO)
LNG vessels, which when they begin operation will mark the birth of an industry that has been
decades in
Attitudes to the range of applicability of floating LNG (FLNG) have shifted over the past couple of
years, with near-shore projects looking increasing attractive as an alternative to onshore liquefaction
plants.
Of the three projects now being constructed in Korean and Chinese shipyards, two – the Shell-led
Prelude project and the Petronas FLNG 1 project – are targeted at monetising remote fields
hundreds of kilometres offshore. The third, however, for Pacific Rubiales in Colombia, will be
moored near-shore to liquefy onshore gas. Moreover, several other near-shore projects are in
development, especially in the United States. This raises the question of which is likely to be the
most popular of these two options over the long run.
The consensus of three exports we contacted was neatly summarised by Luis Benito, responsible for
global strategic marketing at Lloyd’s Register: “The location of FLNGs will depend on the
combination of investment rationale, contract requirements and operating conditions/geography.
Technology options, regulatory requirements as well as the commercial contracts in place will all
affect decision-making . . . Therefore, every FLNG project needs to be considered as a one-off
investment decision where multiple factors are at play, no matter the FLNG’s proximity to shore.”
The view of David Colson, Commercial Vice-President at GTT, is that: “Each project is different and
has specific requirements. It is likely that the large-scale platforms will find further applications –
Shell has already indicated this and Petronas has already one on order and another nearly at FID.”
Meanwhile, Bill Howe, CEO of Gasconsult LNG, agrees that “this is a project and location specific
issue” and adds that: “For projects monetising smaller remote gas reserves we see that simpler
lower-cost technology is required for FLNG. Our internal studies indicate that using our ZR-LNG
technology this is commercially viable for fields up to 2 Tcf with production capacities of 2 mtpa.”
Ship-to-ship transfer
The increasing popularity of Floating Storage and Regasification Units (FSRUs) and the expected
growth in LNG FPSO vessels has led to the development of several technologies for ship-to-ship (STS)
LNG transfer, which has become an increasingly common practice. It was at one time a controversial
practice from a safety perspective but the industry appears to be much more accepting today.
“At Lloyd’s Register we worked in the birth of the first STS gas transfer procedure back in 2006,” says
Benito. “A large number of STS transfers of gas have been performed since, where our approved
procedure have been applied, so far safely. We are comfortable with the way we address the safety
of gas STS and continue to work with many different terminals and operators around the world,
since each STS arrangement and operation may be different from others already established.”
Colson’s view is that: “The safety of LNG transfers at sea must be maintained. This said, the current
application of STS is successful and has been proven. The Society of International Gas Tanker and
Terminal Operators (SIGTTO) has clear guidelines for the transfer of liquid gases at sea.”
LNG carrier propulsion systems
Another major area of innovation is in the propulsion systems used for LNG carriers, made
particularly topical by the announcement that Qatar’s LNG companies are planning to convert some
of their huge fleet to use LNG as fuel.
Traditionally, LNG carriers were equipped with steam turbine-driven propulsion plants. However,
over the past decade, other types of propulsion systems have been considered, using various
configurations of diesel engines, electric drives and gas turbines. So which is likely to be the most
popular system in the future?
Colson was unequivocal: “Efficiencies and fuel optimisation are the future. Dual-fuel or tri-fuel diesel
electric is now the dominant system, replacing the less efficient steam plants – except for the
Japanese wish to maintain this type of system. Future improvements in efficiency may be obtained
with the ME-GI system or the new Wärtsilä competing design.”
Benito’s view is that: “Operating costs drive decisions. With an increase in the price of conventional
heavy fuel oils, new regulations governing emissions from ships, and changing perceptions about
future pricing, we are seeing a change in views on the best engines for gas ships.
“New engineering solutions have been developed creating engines which are increasing ship’s
efficiency compared with steam-plant propulsion solutions and the industry is developing several
alternative energy-saving devices which will optimised the handling of the boil-off gas (BOG).
“Nakilat [Qatar’s LNG shipping company] has just announced it is retrofitting LNG carriers with gas-
capable diesel engines. This is likely to become an increasingly attractive solution for new-builds,
based on prevailing sentiment.”
See you in Seoul!
All our experts agreed on the importance of Gastech, both the conference and the exhibition. “The
exhibition includes all the relevant big names in the world of gas and is an excellent chance to
connect with key people attending throughout the week,” says Benito. “The conference sessions
present the opportunity to pinpoint where the thought leadership is and how to capitalise from it for
our own business.
“We will launch fresh issues of our Gas Technology Report at Gastech and will present some fresh
studies related to gas as fuel.”