Trelleborg’s marine and infrastructure operation has launched a new research report titled ‘The Flexibility Factor Energy Transfer Insights.

The growing global climate crisis is necessitating the search and need for cleaner energy choices. Changing market dynamics are driving evolution and growth within a number of sub segments such as liquefied natural gas (LNG).

The need to meet sustainability goals in more mature global markets is accelerating infrastructure changes. As LNG applications evolve, facilities must adapt innovative infrastructure and vessels to ensure they continue to operate in a safe, efficient, cost-effective and timely manner. As the transition toward a net zero economy gains momentum and LNG becomes increasingly cost competitive, the demand for LNG and its related infrastructure will only increase.

The evolution of LNG applications

Operators are improving infrastructure by upgrading jetties to support bigger vessel types, using floating units as semi-permanent storage structures with on board liquid to gas conversion (FSRU) or using ship-to-ship transfers more regularly to meet demand. However, if paired with existing infrastructure that’s no longer fit for purpose, all of these potential solutions will impact efficiency and – importantly – safety.

One-way foresighted ports and terminals are reducing disruption is by adding to, or modifying their facilities to offer LNG bunkering services gradually over time. Many of these shore-based facilities are located in regions with tighter emissions control regulations, and close to LNG import terminals for efficient distribution.

However, due to its low capital investment and the limited infrastructure required, truck-to-ship is currently one of the most widely used configuration at terminals and ports today for LNG. This method does have its drawback; among other factors, it requires multiple vehicles – ultimately limiting bunkering operations to smaller-sized LNG-fueled vessels.

Alternative options, like ship-to-ship and terminal shore-to-ship transfers, support larger storage capacity and higher bunkering rates, but both methods require significantly higher capital investments for bunker vessels and fixed infrastructure, such as storage tanks, specialized loading arms and flexible hoses.

As LNG applications evolve, infrastructure and operations must evolve to be more flexible than ever before to avoid implications on efficiency and safety. For example, LNG bunker vessels must be able to both visit large terminals and provide transfers to LNG-fueled ships via ship-to-ship.

Infrastructure development and the LNG supply chain

LNG fueling is becoming an alternative choice for shipping lines wishing to reduce their carbon footprint with immediate impact. Today, there is around 20% less CO2 and virtually zero NOx and SOx – this has contributed to the development of new markets within the LNG industry, initiating unprecedented levels of ship and bunker vessel building, and new gas train construction.

The new global limit of 0.50% on sulphur content of ships’ fuel – enforced by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) in January, 2020 – is, however, poised to incentivize the investment into LNG. This stricter cap on marine bunker fuel is spurring the installation of new machinery (or conversion where possible) designed to operate on LNG, as well as the construction of related infrastructure, to accommodate the switch to LNG-fuelled vessels.

This standard is creating a self-reinforcing feedback loop, where the development of an efficient, secure, and competitive LNG supply chain and related bunkering infrastructure drives further adoption of LNG-fuelled vessels.

The LNG supply chain is a carbon-intensive process. Uptake in gas demand will be met by LNG in many countries without domestic gas production or pipeline gas from nearby countries. By its very nature, the LNG supply chain spans the globe and involves different industry processes. Up until now, however, the emissions from LNG have been considered on a more segmented basis. With the growth of the LNG fuelling market, there is an increased focus on the lifecycle emissions of the whole LNG supply chain – from ‘well-to-wake’ emissions to final combustion. 1

Projects attracting investment

LNG is a global commodity with 21 countries exporting to 42 importers. The bunkering infrastructure to support LNG as a marine fuel continues to snowball.

Investment in LNG Infrastructure has grown with 124 ports now providing LNG bunkering facilities.2 In early 2019, there were just six LNG bunkering vessels in operation; five in Europe and one in North America. As of July 2020, this has more than doubled, growing to 13 in service, with a further 28 on order and/or undergoing commissioning.3

With 120 LNG-powered ships currently existing around the world – and another 130 on order4 – an increasing number of bunkering facilities is gearing up to support the demand for LNG as a fuel into the future.

Flexible LNG solutions and improving interface management

Across international markets, LNG is traded as a commodity. In international shipping, it is used as a fuel. Each market requires flexible solutions to ensure safety, efficiency, cost effectiveness and, ultimately, the success of the business model – from ship-shore links for FSRUs to hybrid-GEN3 solutions for bunker vessels. New projects need to find fast return on investment (ROI), while established facilities must keep pace with today’s changing demands.

Given the global scope and myriad applications of the LNG industry, diversity is the norm. From traditional terminals to bunker barges and everything in between, project requirements vary substantially, inviting varied solutions and complicating interface management at transfer touchpoints. Optimizing the interface at the various stages of the LNG supply chain is critical to supporting the business model of every transfer operation. Interface optimization means consistent communication and standardized processes at every transfer point.

Efficient equipment delivers flexibility

Adopting easily configurable and compatible equipment systems delivers several benefits such as an enhanced overview of operations, improved productivity, reliability, safety, and ultimately, faster ROI to all stakeholders. Efficient systems that offer these benefits are able to provide support to LNG operators that require operational flexibility to adapt to spot contracts.

Conversely, fragmentation creates inefficiencies and safety issues, and reduces the opportunity to implement flexible business models. A standardized approach across facilities opens up opportunities for all stakeholders through common requirements and systems. Standardization of systems improves operational control. At the same time, data sharing between parties is enhanced, enabling effective communications, fast response to potential issues, and empowered long-term decision making.  

To support an international shipping network fuelled by LNG requires a robust system architecture design at the outset. In turn, this requires oversight between stakeholders and an understanding of cross-party requirements.

The role of specifications

Every port and terminal is unique. It is important to identify the correct specifications needed at the early stages of a project to ensure long-term performance, and the safety of the project. The ability to understand materials and applications plays a large part in optimizing safety and performance, and ensuring the right solution for the job. 

At the same time, products must meet differing regulatory requirements globally, and suppliers must understand and integrate all necessary standards into their solution – and be prepared to provide the first-class 24/7 support when it is needed to ensure downtime is kept at a minimum.

Looking ahead

Demand for cleaner fuels is set to propel LNG fueling into a mature market phase – where spot contracts are utilized, rather than solely long-term contracts. In addition to developing economies driving new applications and therefor markets, the global LNG infrastructure market is expected to witness significant growth in the near future.

However, LNG infrastructure must be able to keep up with demand. Accelerating LNG fueling to meet sustainability demands requires LNG infrastructure that can cope with demand by berthing more and more LNG-powered vessels safely and efficiently.

The LNG industry demands integrated solutions rather than individual products, so our primary focus is engineering LNG solutions that offer configurability, compatibility and flexibility for your bespoke operational requirements. In order to respond to LNG’s various challenges and opportunities, LNG leaders must adapt to the needs of different business models, changing environments and transfer scenarios. To do this and help ensure LNG operations take place safely and efficiently, operational flexibility is crucial.

1 SEA LNG, LNG – The Only Viable Fuel, 2020

2 SEA LNG, 2021 Outlook for LNG – a View From the Bridge, 2021

3 SEA LNG, LNG – The Only Viable Fuel, 2020

4 https://www.ship-technology.com/features/lng-bunkering-facilities-around-the-world/