LNG as a transition fuel for container ships

2021/06/29 at 10:37 AM

The world’s leading shipping giants are moving towards carbon neutrality. LNG could significantly contribute to this policy. However, some companies doubt the prospects of this fuel for the industry and consider it only as a temporary solution.

The next month, European Commission is going to put forward legislation to force ships to reduce the average greenhouse gas intensity of energy used by 6 per cent by 2030, by 49 per cent by 2035 and by 75 per cent by 2050 (from the 2020 levels), the Argus Media writes. The commodity-focused media organisation quotes the environmental campaign group Transport&Environment (T&A), which says that this target would allow for liquefied natural gas to be compliant for up to two decades.

LNG-powered СMA CGM Jacques Saadé container vessel, source: Wikimedia Commons

“LNG in dual-fuel high-pressure, diesel-cycle engines would be the cheapest compliance option, at 0.85-0.93 euros per gigajoule in 2030,” T&A calculates. Hence, if the new legislation approved, LNG could reach 18,8 per cent of total energy used in EU-related shipping in 2030 and 35.3 per cent by 2035, says T&A.

Liquefied natural gas usage still produces CO2 emissions but their level is way lower than the traditional fossil fuels emissions. LNG as the most viable transition fuel is already being introduced in the biggest European seaports. For example, the Port of Rotterdam encourages the greener shipping by giving to “clean” vessels, including LNG-powered vessels, a discount on their port tariffs. The port authority invests generously in the infrastructure and facilities that vessels of this kind need to bunker LNG.

Converted and hybrid vessels

The Port of Rotterdam to become one of the main bunkering points for the ULCVs (Ultra Large Container Vessels) powered by liquefied gas. Hapag-Lloyd’s Brussels Express (renamed ex-Sajir) will bunker LNG in both Rotterdam and Singapore. The 15,000 container ship was converted to run on LNG (liquefied natural gas) instead of fuel oil at the at Chinese Huarun Dadong Dockyard in Shanghai. There, the 1,300-tonne LNG tank was hoisted into the belly of the ship. With a cost of around 35 million euros, this retrofit became the first conversion of a large containership to LNG of that scale. At the beginning of June, Brussels Express reached its homeport of Hamburg. The ship is not yet operating exclusively with LNG, as the final guarantee works will be performed later.

Hapag-Lloyd Brussels Express LNG-powered container ship, source: Hapag-Lloyd / Jens Vogt

But there is more yet to come. Hapag-Lloyd has also ordered six LNG-powered 23,500+ TEU ships from the Korean Daewoo Shipbuilding and Marine Engineering. They are supposed to be delivered between April and December 2023. The company’s investment in them reaches almost 1 billion US dollars.

CMA CGM as LNG pioneer

Hapag-Lloyd is not the first container shipping company among the world leaders who started reshaping its fleet towards the LNG-powered vessels. CMA CGM’s Jacques Saade is the first LNG-powered container ship in the world with a capacity of 23,000 TEU. This 400-metre-long giant was built at the CSSC Hudong Zhonghua Shipbuilding yard in China and was delivered to the owner on 22 September 2020. Jacques Saade is the first in a series of nine 23,000 TEU container ships ordered by CMA CGM. By the end of 2024, the French group is going to have 44 LNG-powered vessels, including 23,000-TEU, 15,000-TEU, 13,000-TEU ships.

Flexible decision

The CEO of Hapag-Lloyd, Rolf Habben Jansen, says that there is no technology in sight to make large ships carbon-neutral in the next three-five years, hence, using LNG is the most viable and flexible decision for next years. But there is an opposite opinion. Maersk, the world’s largest container shipping company rules out LNG as transition fuel. “We don’t believe that LNG will play a big role for us as a transition fuel, because it is still a fossil fuel and we would rather go from what we do today straight to a neutral type of fuel,” Soren Skou, CEO of A.P. Moller-Maersk, said in November 2020.

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