The rise of LNG as a marine fuel and power source in Europe

Vincent Lagarrigue's picture
Vincent Lagarrigue, Director, Trelleborg Fluid Handling Solutions
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This summer, President Donald Trump’s announcement that the EU would fund the construction of up to 11 LNG ports in Europe to absorb a sharp increase in shipments from the US sparked a fierce debate among political commentators and maritime journalists and catapulted LNG onto the front page of newspapers worldwide. The statement came on the back of recent US-EU trade talks, which - according to Trump - partly sought to expand America’s reach into the continent’s gas markets.

Whether or not this will eventually come to pass is a source of contention among these same commentators. Regardless of the outcome, however, EU gas imports are expected to rise to around 84% by 2040, with domestic production due to drop by 50%, according to the International Energy Agency. How much of this will come from where is anyone’s guess. What is clear, however, is just how important a role LNG will play as a power source in the EU gas mix.

Power generation is only part of the story however. While the volumes of gas handled at the ports of the EU may be small compared to those in Asia, the sophistication of the port infrastructure in Europe is often far beyond that of other regions. Much of this is due to the rise of LNG bunkering.

A recent piece in LNG World Shipping argued that “what European LNG terminals lack in volume throughputs, they more than make up for in cargo-handling sophistication. As befits a region that gave birth to small-scale LNG and LNG bunkering, the terminals of northwest Europe are an integral part of an extended supply chain that reaches an ever-widening band of customers seeking coastal distribution and LNG-fuelling services.”

Northern Europe and Scandinavia have long since established themselves as the world leaders for using LNG as a bunker fuel. The continent’s capacity to innovate has played a key part in this: Seagas, a converted Norwegian ferry and the world’s first bunkering vessel, entered into service in Stockholm harbour in 2013 to fuel the passenger/car ferry Viking Grace with 70 tonnes of LNG most days of the week. This was followed by a chain of new LNGBVs cropping up across Europe during the course of 2017: ENGIE Zeebrugge, serving the Port of Zeebrugge, Cardissa in Rotterdam, and Coralius in the western Baltic Sea.

Europe’s aptitude for progressive thinking is reflected across many of its main ports and bunkering hubs, including its largest, The Port of Rotterdam. This year it was announced that its ship-to-ship (STS) LNG transfer facilities would be available to short-haul sea vessels and LNG-fuelled cruise ships by the end of 2018, followed by larger deep-sea vessels by the end of 2019.

The Port of Barcelona also opened an LNG bunkering facility earlier last year, as part of the city’s air improvement plan, which centres around the use of LNG as a marine fuel. Over in Norway, situated in the northernmost town in the world, The Port of Hammerfest has been expanding its facilities over the past few years and is now able to bunker 1,000m3 of LNG in one operation.

This infrastructure, of course, constitutes a significant investment for Europe – with much funding coming from governments. For this investment to deliver on their promises of cleaner, more efficient shipping it’s vital that infrastructure continues to develop in a way that keeps pace with demand, is cost-effective, flexible, and minimises environmental impact on its locations. Floating cryogenic hoses, such as Trelleborg’s Cryoline, are at the centre of these efforts, forming an essential component of many different configurations of transfer – as we recently discussed at Gastech. Floating hoses, as opposed to jetties, can open up possibilities for infrastructure in new locations, accommodate a wider variety of vessel types, and significantly increase ease of operation. As such, we are pleased to be working with partners throughout Europe to provide the technology that is driving cleaner shipping locally, and leading the charge towards more innovative LNG infrastructure globally.

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Image courtesy of Trelleborg Fluid Handling Solutions