For many years, LNG has been used as fuel to generate electrical power, provide domestic heating, and to provide energy for industrial purposes. Typically, it is transported from suppliers to users in bulk by means of conventional gas ships or offshore/onshore pipelines. The wider energy spectrum recognises this form of the industry as large-scale LNG.
In recent years, maritime propulsion, land transport and the commercial and industrial sectors have driven the additional need for LNG. It is also considered to be one of the sources of energy suitable for stranded geographies which can’t be connected to gas or national electric grids. This upcoming and growing industrial sector is frequently described as small-scale LNG.
Due to increasingly strict environmental regulations controlling air pollution from ships (implemented by IMO and other local air quality controls) and the potential for favourable price conditions, the use of LNG as a fuel is expected to become more common in the future. Scandinavian countries like Norway and Finland are currently investing significantly in small-scale LNG facilities. Other European countries like Germany, Sweden, UK and France are believed to have plans to build small-scale LNG facilities within the next five years.
Conventional or large-scale LNG facilities have existed for several decades and this is a relatively mature sector compared to small-scale LNG. One of the major differentiators in large and small-scale LNG sector is marine infrastructure used for berthing/bunkering operations. Typically, piled structures, jetties and dolphins from the main marine infrastructure used for nearshore conventional LNG facilities. Such marine infrastructure can typically accommodate a wide range of vessel sizes based on LNG facility’s functionality.
The small-scale LNG facility may also expect to receive conventional LNG ships for delivering the bulk cargo, and smaller shuttle tankers for bunkering. However, with small-scale LNG infrastructure, there may be operational constraints to serve a wide range of berthing vessel sizes. One of the key marine aspects is the offloading infrastructure setup, like cryogenic loading arms or flexible hoses.
Recent developments in marine infrastructure and bunkering technologies have made significant breakthroughs to support small-scale LNG, in both nearshore and offshore geographies. Marine infrastructure including moorings, in combination with offloading options, form the key design drivers for a small-scale LNG. With increasing demand of supplying gas to stranded locations, having the most efficient, cost-effective, flexible and practical marine infrastructure will be key to the success of small-scale LNG projects.
The key opportunities and benefits small-scale LNG can bring are:
This is an exciting time for small-scale LNG projects regardless of global low prices and market uncertainty. LNG has become increasingly cost competitive and as the shift towards a low carbon economy progresses, the demand for small-scale LNG and related infrastructure required will only increase. It would be interesting to see how the industry utilises available resources and lessons learnt to address successful marine infrastructure configurations for small-scale LNG in the coming years.
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