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Europe’s first LNG inland bunker barge

A new inland LNG bunker barge could provide the model for creating low-capex, low-opex LNG bunkering infrastructure

By the time Europe’s first inland LNG bunker barge was named FlexFueler001 in ceremony by Dutch LNG supplier Titan LNG at the Port of Amsterdam in June, it had already performed its first bunkering operation. Almost two weeks before it was officially named, FlexFueler001 bunkered the roll-on roll-off (roro) cargo vessel Kvitnos at the Port of Rotterdam.

Owned by Norway’s Nor Lines and operated by Samskip in a weekly service between Norway and Northern Europe, Kvitnos and its sister vessel Kvitbjørn require a high reliability of LNG supply. With an overall length of 119.5 m, beam of 20.9 m and draught of 5.5 m, the LNG-fuelled roros each have a deadweight of 5,000 tonnes, with a carrying capacity of 120 20-foot containers and 990 lane metres. Propulsion power for each ship is supplied by a single four-stroke, nine-cylinder gas-powered Bergen-Rolls-Royce Marine B35:40L9P main engine.

“We’re focused on economical, efficient, reliable and environmentally friendly transport. That’s why we are happy with our partner Titan LNG”, says Samskip trade manager west coast Norway Paul Wielaars.

Within days of FlexFueler001’s first refuelling operation, the inland waterways bunker vessel LNG Londonperformed its first LNG bunkering of two feeder container vessels, Containerships Polar and Containerships Nord in Rotterdam. Owned by LNG Shipping, a co-operation between Victrol and Sogestran, LNG Londonhas an overall length of 110 m, beam of 15 m and capacity of 3,000 m3.

A model for the future

The first of a series of inland LNG bunker barges being built for Titan LNG, FlexFueler001 could well be a model for creating low-capex, low-opex LNG bunkering infrastructure at ports and terminals to meet the growing demand for LNG as a fuel and industrial power source.

“It’s working like a charm,” Titan LNG commercial director marine Michael Schaap tells LNG Shipping World. “It’s pretty exciting moving from the drawing board to a solution that really works and meets customer demands. The delivered price of LNG as a marine fuel is comparable to heavy fuel oil,” he adds.

FlexFueler001 has an overall length of 76.4 m and beam of 11.45 m, with four vacuum insulated IMO Type C cargo tanks, each with a capacity of 370 m3. For manoeuvrability, FlexFueler001 is fitted with a bow thruster. There is also a control room and a simple accommodation at the stern.

Mr Schaap explains that FlexFueler001 is “the result of a process we started three years ago when we examined what was required for the LNG market to take off. We wanted a solution that would resemble fuel oil bunkering.”

At the time, Mr Schaap says, a low-capex, low-opex solution was essential because LNG as a fuel was still in the development stages. “There was uncertainty at the time of the level of demand. That is no longer the case,” he states.

Because FlexFueler001 is non-self-propelled, Mr Schaap says the company charters one of many available pushboats in the port to position the bunker barge alongside the receiving vessel for refuelling operations.

As LNG as a marine fuel becomes more commonplace, Mr Schaap says that “terminals are becoming more and more comfortable” with simultaneous operations (SIMOPS) — refuelling LNG while the receiving vessel is taking on cargo.

“We’re excited to bunker LNG alongside the terminal,” says Samskip’s Paul Wielaars. “This saves us time as we are no longer dependent on truck-to-ship operations. Bunkering at the same time as cargo operations take place can save us up to eight hours.”

Port of Amsterdam director energy, cargo and offshore Femke Brenninkmeijer, says the FlexFueler 001makes it possible to bunker LNG by barge around the port. “It is the first dedicated LNG bunker barge in Europe, and it helps us to realise our ambition to become one of the most clean and sustainable ports in the world,” explains Ms Brenninkmeijer.

Reducing emissions

In 2017, Titan LNG was awarded a subsidy from the Province of North Holland to build the FlexFueler001. The province awarded the funds as part of its clean harbour programme to support Titan’s work reducing emissions from shipping in northwest Europe.

At the time of the award, Titan LNG chief executive Niels den Nijs said: “We are excited to receive this contribution to build our flexible LNG-bunkering solution, which will undoubtedly provide a major boost in the region for LNG as marine fuel … We are also excited to see feedback from our customers that confirms there is growing demand for LNG from inland water barges and seagoing vessels at attractive prices.”

Province of North Holland representative Jaap Bond praised “the innovative nature” of Titan’s FlexFueler system. Titan LNG is part of IVECO Shouten, a sister company to LNG truck-fuelling station operator Rolande LNG. It develops bespoke LNG solutions for shipping customers.

Plans are for FlexFueler001 and its sister vessels to serve vessels ranging from tankers and containerships to roro vessels in the ports at Amsterdam, Rotterdam and Antwerp (ARA), critical maritime hubs for northern Europe.

Titan LNG will deploy FlexFueler002, currently under construction and ready by mid 2020, in the Port of Antwerp. The third sister vessel will be announced in the coming months. Reports are that Titan LNG is even considering a fourth LNG bunker vessel, one that might be self-propelled.

Belgium’s Fluxys NV contracted Shipyard Kooiman BV of the Dutch privately held Kooiman Marine Group to build the FlexFueler002, with Titan LNG as the long-term operator of the vessel.

When commissioned in H1 2020, FlexFueler002 will be located at Quay 526/528 the Port of Antwerp, which currently provides truck-to-ship LNG bunkering. With implementation of the IMO global sulphur cap less than six months away, Mr Schaap says Titan LNG sees the business case for LNG as a marine fuel as “being very healthy. We expect more shipowners to confirm their interest in LNG as a marine fuel”.

One of those shipowners is Dutch marine offshore contractor Heerema Marine Contractors (HMC). In July, Titan LNG coordinated the refuelling of HMC’s Sleipner, the world’s largest dual-fuel crane ship, following the vessel’s delivery by Singapore’s Sembcorp Marine. Chartering Anthony Vedder Group’s small-scale LNG carrier Coral Fraseri, Titan LNG supplied 3,000 metric tonnes of LNG for the refuelling. The 10,000-m3capacity ship loaded LNG in Singapore at the SLNG terminal where Titan LNG sourced the fuel from Pavilion Gas, the Singaporean gas and LNG supplier. Coral Fraseri followed Sleipnir offshore and performed a ship-to-ship operation to cool down and fill the tanks.

Mr Schaap says that Titan LNG is looking at other opportunities beyond the ARA. Those opportunities could well be in other seaports in Europe. To meet the LNG bunkering needs of waterborne transport, the European Union estimates that €945M (US$1Bn) will need to be invested in major European seaports by 2025 and another €1Bn (US$1.1Bn) in inland ports by 2030.

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