Singapore: James Ashworth, lead consultant with Singapore-based Oil & Gas Consultancy, TRI-ZEN International, reckons shipping is going through a seismic shift right now.
Not mincing his words, he states, “We are witnessing the greatest change in shipping since Winston Churchill advocated the move from coal, a UK plentiful strategic reserve, to imported oil for the Royal Navy.”
Churchill argued that oil fuelled warships could go faster, produced less smoke, avoiding discovery better and required no stokers, reducing the manpower burden. The idea was berated by the Admiralty hierarchy.
“The age of oil as the preferred fuel in shipping is coming to an end faster than most can comprehend and more uncomfortably than many would wish,” says Ashworth.
The age of cheap oil is over, he reckons, noting how bunker costs have more than doubled in recent years.
Additionally, a raft of international emissions legislation, led by Europe and the US, via the International Maritime Organization, is progressively coming into force.
Progressively tightening caps have been placed on the production of Sulphurous Oxides (SOx), Nitrous Oxides (NOx) and black Particulate Matter (PM). Conventional marine oils do not and will not meet the new standards. The only resort lies in the use of ultra low sulphur diesel fuel (ULSD), although this alone does not provide the full answer, argues Ashworth, noting the high price for the fuel.
“The most logical and comprehensive solution lies in the adoption of liquid natural gas,” says Ashworth, adding: “Gas burns much more cleanly than marine oils, meeting all current and planned emissions targets.”
There are, of course, challenges in adopting this fuel. The very low temperatures associated with LNG render most conventional steels unsuitable for use in containment and transport. They become as brittle as glass. Instead, sophisticated stainless steels are required and this pushes up costs of infrastructure.
The relative energy-density ratio of LNG versus diesel means that an owner has to carry around 1.6 times the volume to go the same distance. So, larger tanks or shorter refuelling intervals are required. Add the necessary tank insulation and more space is taken. This can be a problem in some vessels.
Other challenges lie in the small availability of LNG infrastructure globally although this is growing and is set to continue growing reasonably fast.
“Also,” notes Ashworth, “it is difficult for infrastructure providers to build a business case around the relatively small number of LNG fuelled ships in service today, although that too is changing.”
Nevertheless, Ashworth, a marine and mechanical engineer, is adamant LNG will replace oil as the marine fuel of choice.
“This will double today’s satisfied LNG demand globally,” he says, “which cannot be met by simply doubling the supply by building new conventional large scale LNG production plants.”
He reckons we will see a proliferation of small scale production, possibly including small scale floating LNG production units, monetising stranded gas at sea and used as floating bunker stations.
“Most of today’s global fleet, around 1bn tonnes, is not suitable for conversion to LNG, thus becoming technologically redundant, uneconomical and thus, scrap. It is estimated that 80% of all vessels will need to be replaced over the coming decade,” he states. Good news if you happen to be a shipbuilder. [15/08/13]