Investigating solutions to optimise LNG logistics

Christelle Abou Saab's picture
Christelle Abou Saab, LNG software tools commercial development, ENGIE Lab CRIGEN
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LNG as fuel for road transportation was considered a nascent and niche market a few years ago, with only a few players benefiting from early-comers’ advantages. A couple of years later, supply chains are now fully implemented to provide LNG as fuel either for road and for marine transportation, due to stricter emissions regulations. However, the supply methods used remain limited and rather costly. Therefore, the reduction of LNG supply costs is a must in order to further develop the market and make LNG competitive compared to conventional fuels.

For that reason, ENGIE Lab LNG investigated solutions to optimise the total cost of an LNG transport and distribution chain, including lower CAPEX and operation costs, while respecting the constraints linked to the LNG supplier logistics and to the LNG product itself. To do so, ENGIE Lab CRIGEN developed software that demonstrates the feasibility of implementing an optimisation model adapted to small-scale LNG logistics. The resulting tool is called Optiretail” and it has been tested on several projects worldwide.

The results of this optimisation enabled decision-makers to answer several strategic questions, such as the trucks or vessels fleet size, LNG sourcing, LNG station or power plant capacity, delivery planning, etc. This numerical solution can be used in the future to elaborate strategies for LNG station implementation as well as to improve the operational efficiency of existing LNG supply chains for the LNG as fuel market or for LNG for industrial projects.

Moreover, the development of LNG facilities addresses technical challenges that need to be deeply investigated. Plant performance has to be assessed to guarantee the profitability of LNG projects. Understanding the relationships between CAPEX, OPEX, Operations and Customer Service is essential to maximise the LNG supply chain efficiency. Logistics modelling is the only solution to reveal and explore these complex relationships and understand how various resources (berths, tanks, fleet, handling equipment, etc.) interact with each other. This method is also essential to grasp how these resources are affected by manageable factors such a predictive maintenance, emission profile and LNG production capacity, but also unpredictable phenomena such as weather, failures and shutdowns.

For the reasons above, ENGIE Lab participated in the development of “STAGE®” (Software for Transportation and Analysis of Gas Exchange) that assesses the operability of onshore projects (either small or large scale) and of marine operations for FLNG and FSRUs.

The tool simulations can be performed at different stages of the asset lifetime. For instance, during the project definition phase, the software evaluates several configurations (tank number and capacity, production flowrate for liquefaction plant, etc.) and assesses the impact of unexpected modification. During the exploitation phase, the tool analyses new supply chains and during the asset evolution, it evaluates expansion projects or any additional constraints.

During a study, many scenarios can be considered. A scenario will actually represent a combination of variables representing the systems (infrastructure, maintenance, production profile, weather, risk of shutdown, etc.). The comparison among scenarios will allow the definition of the best LNG plant design. Typical results are the plant availability, the evolution of tanks filling levels, the delays of the LNG carriers or the LNG trucks loading at the terminal. In a small-scale LNG project, particular attention will be paid to a potential bottleneck due to the administrative paperwork and LNG truck weighing process.

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