The Problems Delaying the Switch to LNG in Shipping Fuel

The shipping industry has found itself doing a U-turn when it comes to the use of LNG as shipping fuel. In the face of stricter emissions regulations coming into play in January 2015, ships must turn to an alternative, low sulphur fuel source. However, whilst the challenges of using LNG have previously made it an unpopular alternative, the shipping industry is now coming around to it as a shipping fuel.

LNG – liquefied natural gas –consists mainly of Methane, which is converted to liquid form at extremely low temperatures of -162°C. This shrinks the volume of the gas 600 times, making it easier to store and transport.

One of the main challenges of using LNG as shipping fuel is its unique properties, which make the switch from conventional fuels to LNG a difficult one.

LNG stored at low – cryogenic – temperatures
Due to the incredibly low temperatures needed to store LNG fuel, special storage tanks must be used in order to protect the rest of the vessel and crew. Only special materials can come into contact with the cryogenic temperatures of LNG, such as stainless steel, aluminium and Invar. Contact with personnel must also be avoided, making the design of LNG tanks much more intricate than those for conventional fuels.

Larger storage space needed
The storage space required for LNG is four times higher than the space needed for conventional fuels, such as diesel, for the same range. A safe area around the tank is needed in case of any accidental spillage, further increasing the storage space required.

Tanks must be ventilated
LNG shouldn’t be stored in an enclosed space due to its volatile nature. Therefore a ventilation system is essential.

LNG facilities are limited
As the shipping industry is only just beginning to wake up to the opportunities of LNG fuel, bunkering facilities are still very limited. For some ships it may be necessary to provide a back-up fuel option to ensure fuel availability.

Yet, despite these challenges, demand for LNG fuelled ships is expected to increase as a result of the new regulations. Currently there are only 40 LNG fuelled ships in operation around the world. But a recent study by Lloyd’s Register predicted there could be as many as 653 deep-sea fuelled LNG ships in operation by 2025, as ship operators search for a long-term solution.

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