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Imabari presses ahead with project to build world’s first LPG-fuelled cape

Imabari Shipbuilding, Japan’s largest shipbuilder, is pressing ahead with plans to build a world-first LPG-fuelled capesize bulk carrier, with ClassNK granting an approval in principle to the 180,000 dwt dual-fuelled concept design developed in cooperation with Mitsubishi Shipbuilding.

“As one of the merits of this design, it eliminates the necessity for special consideration of boil off gas with this design handling LPG at room temperature and high pressure, which makes the ship’s operation easier. In addition, the ship has been designed with extensive consideration towards cost competitiveness by eliminating to use low-temperature materials such as stainless steel and cryogenic insulation. LPG tank is planned/designed to be installed in the aft area of the bridge and with round-trip distance capacity between Japan and Australia. And, as for supplying LPG to the ship, nowadays, LPG supply bases and infrastructure facilities are globally more developed and improved, which makes the ship’s operation more flexible,” a Class NK press release stated yesterday.

While a number of capes are being built with LNG as the main fuel, the Imabari development is a first for LPG, a fuel that has been growing in stature among the shipping community over the past 12 months. Many VLGCs are set for delivery this year which will be fuelled by LPG.

In February this year another Japanese yard, Kawasaki Heavy Industries, debuted a new LPG fuel system.

A joint study published in December by class society DNV GL and engine manufacturer MAN evaluated that LPG is at least as attractive an energy source as LNG, with shorter payback periods, lower investment costs and lower sensitivity to fuel price scenarios. Furthermore, there is considerable LPG infrastructure available around the world, including storage facilities, export terminals and coastal refineries with loading and unloading installations.

The use of LPG as a fuel will to a large degree avoid particulate matter and black carbon emissions. What is more, the combination of low production and combustion-related emissions results in an overall greenhouse gas emissions reduction of 17% compared to HFO or MGO, the study claimed.

“LPG could act as a bridging fuel to ammonia since LPG installations in a ship may be suitable for ammonia, as well,” Christos Chryssakis, business development manager at DNV GL, stated. “Materials used for LPG tanks and systems will in most cases be suitable for ammonia, and the double barriers and other safety features required for LPG would be just as relevant for ammonia. Some adjustments may be necessary for an LPG-fuelled ship to convert to ammonia but may be limited in scope in many cases.”

By making appropriate arrangements when planning a newbuilding project, the need for adjustments when converting to ammonia at a later time could be minimised.

In November last year, the World LPG Association issued a 73-page report on the potential for LPG bunkering around the globe. The report stated: “Today LPG is becoming a technically and economically feasible option as an alternative fuel for shipping. According to MAN, by 2028, all LPG VLGC newbuilds and about 30% of containerships newbuilds are going to use LPG as fuel.”

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Sam Chambers

Starting out with the Informa Group in 2000 in Hong Kong, Sam Chambers became editor of Maritime Asia magazine as well as East Asia Editor for the world’s oldest newspaper, Lloyd’s List. In 2005 he pursued a freelance career and wrote for a variety of titles including taking on the role of Asia Editor at Seatrade magazine and China correspondent for Supply Chain Asia. His work has also appeared in The Economist, The New York Times, The Sunday Times and The International Herald Tribune.
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