Sparks About Gas

Naval uses for cleaner fuel

 By Peter Ward
About gas

As the UN tightens regulations on the amounts of sulfur in marine fuels, ships are turning to liquefied natural gas as a cleaner alternative that’s almost as cheap…

Last year, the UN’s International Maritime Organization cut limits on sulfur in marine fuels to 0.5 percent, starting in the year 2020. High amounts of sulfur can contribute to air pollution, haze, and acid rain. For that reason, both ships and ports are considering adopting liquefied natural gas, which emits virtually no sulfur, in order to meet the new regulations.
According to research from Exxon Mobil Corp., the amount of LNG being used as a marine fuel is increasing. The company’s 2016 energy outlook predicts use of the fuel growing from 1 percent in 2016 to 10 percent by 2040.
Currently there are around 97 ships worldwide powered by LNG, with an additional 91 on order, according to data from DNV GL, reported by Bloomberg. DNV research predicts that the number may rise to about 250 excluding LNG carriers and inland waterway vessels.

“It’s something that we want to be at the leading edge of,” Robin Silvester, chief executive officer of Vancouver’s port authority, told Bloomberg. “That will be the next way that marine emissions can be significantly reduced.”
It’s estimated that if the global shipping industry adopted LNG fuel, it would emit 20 percent less carbon dioxide, which would have a significant impact considering ships are thought to have accounted for about 3.1 percent of all global emissions between 2007 and 2012. That number is expected to increase to 17 percent as freight volume almost quadruples by 2050.
One of the issues holding back the use of the fuel at sea is the fueling infrastructure. Most ships using LNG travel shorter routes, as the fuel must be delivered by truck, which limits it to smaller ships.
However, the number of ports that can supply LNG to deep sea ships is increasing. Rotterdam was he first port to enable ship-to-ship LNG fueling in 2014, and the first onshore LNG fueling station with LNG opened in 2015 at Stavanger port in Norway. The station was equipped with a special loading arm for LNG.

Stavanger port, Norway (Guillaume Baviere, Wikimedia)

Another problem is that new ships need to be built rather than old ones retrofitted to accept LNG fuel. Companies are reluctant to build the ships while the ports can’t supply them, and the ports won’t supply the fuel until there is enough demand for it, creating a catch-22 situation. However, as the world cracks down on sulfur emissions, something is bound to give soon.

SEE MORE: LNG fuel and the shipping sector by Mike Scott

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about the author
Peter Ward
Business and technology reporter based in New York. MA in Business Journalism at Columbia University Journalism School 2013. Five years experience reporting in the U.S., the U.K., and the Middle East.