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LNG Marine Fuels Could Be the Answer to Meeting the IMO’s 2030 and 2050 Decarbonisation Targets

LNG is enjoying something of a heyday right now in the lead up to the adoption of the IMO 2020 sulphur limit on January 1st. More than 40 orders have been placed for LNG-powered vessels as of May 2019 and this trend is expected to continue; a recent study from the Korean Development Bank and Korea Trade Investment Programme Agency estimates that such vessels will comprise 60% of newbuild orders by 2025.

These increasing investments are clear signs of the growing global demand for LNG bunkers as a commercially and environmentally viable fuel for the maritime industry. Nor Shipping’s decision to award its prestigious Next Generation Shipping Award to the Gagarin Prospect, the world’s first aframax tanker designed to run on LNG, is further testament to the industry’s booming support for LNG.

Much of this is owed to the emergence of proven facts and validated data and analysis drawn from LNG in operation. While misconceptions still exist around LNG as a marine fuel, particularly in terms of its greenhouse gas (GHG) performance and its viability as a solution for meeting the IMO’s 2030 and 2050 decarbonisation targets, many of these claims are still based on conjecture – meanwhile, new data now exists to tackle outdated suppositions and bring credible arguments to the table.

As a coalition built around the values of knowledge-sharing and collaboration across shipping’s many sectors, SEA\LNG encourages parties considering LNG as their future fuelling option to pursue the most up-to-date, proven and verified data to better inform their investment decisions.

To take the case of LNG’s much-debated GHG performance as an example, SEA\LNG has recently released an independent study in partnership with the Society for Gas as a Marine Fuel (SGMF), which unequivocally proves the GHG reduction performance of LNG across its entire life cycle from Well-to-Wake (WtW), and confirms LNG as major contributor in meeting IMO’s 2050 GHG targets for shipping.

While industry focus tends to centre around LNG’s use specifically as a fuel, the WtW approach facilitated the analysis of the entire LNG supply chain, comprising production, transportation, verification, liquefaction, bunkering and usage as fuel.

On an engine technology basis today, the absolute WtW emissions reduction benefits for gas-fuelled engines compared with Heavy Fuel Oil (HFO) fuelled ships are between 14% to 21% for 2-stroke slow-speed engines, and between 7% to 15% for 4-stroke medium-speed engines. These GHG emission reduction benefits for gas-fuelled engines do not change significantly when compared with the expected post-2020 compliant oil-based marine fuel options.

Further, the WtW approach also presents the opportunity to identify the emissions from Well-to-Tank, and Tank-to-Wake. On a Tank-to-Wake(TtW) basis, looking into the combustion of LNG within the ship, the savings percentage is higher; the emissions reduction benefits for gas-fuelled engines compared to HFO fuelled ships are between 18% – 28% for 2-stroke slow-speed engines and between 12% – 22% for 4-stroke medium-speed engines.

Also, while LNG’s performance in reducing air quality emissions has been well-documented in the run-up to the sulphur cap, SEA\LNG and SGMF’s study can now also attribute absolute figures to these statistics as well. Due to the negligible amount of sulphur in the LNG fuel, sulphur oxides (SOx) emissions are reduced close to zero, and other local pollutants, such as nitrogen oxides (NOx) and particulate matter (PM), can be reduced by up to 95% and 99% respectively.

A number of studies have emerged in the maritime sphere across recent months with little consistency between sources. Where this study approach differs is that the authenticity of the study’s findings is grounded in a rigorous course of independent validation. The study itself was commissioned from independent consultancy thinkstep, and all calculations are based on primary data provided by Original Engine Manufacturers including Caterpillar MaK, Caterpillar Solar Turbines, GE, MAN Energy Solutions, Rolls Royce (MTU), Wärtsilä. and Winterthur Gas & Diesel; and LNG suppliers, ExxonMobil, Shell, and Total. The study assesses the supply and use of LNG as a marine fuel according to ISO standards, and the results were peer-reviewed by leading academics from key institutions in Germany, France, the US, and Japan; all parties involved have verified the accuracy of the findings.

Steve Esau, General Manager, SEA\LNG

Also unique to this study is its exploration of the potential of BioLNG and Synthetic LNG in driving further emissions reductions from LNG as a marine fuel. Our analysis showed that bioLNG and synthetic LNG provide a significant additional benefit in terms of WtW GHG intensity. Bio and synthetic LNG are fully interchangeable with LNG derived from fossil feedstock. For example, a blend of 20% bioLNG as a drop-in fuel can reduce GHG emissions by a further 13% compared with 100% fossil fuel LNG.

By encouraging the validation of research and data around the use of LNG bunkers as it exists today, this also gives us a benchmark of solid fact on which to build reasonable estimations for LNG’s continued importance in shipping’s pathway to decarbonisation. We expect the impressive trend of investments into LNG bunkering, supply, infrastructure, and technology in recent years to continue as the industry refocuses from desulphurisation to decarbonisation, driving further improvements in LNG’s emissions reduction capability.

Ongoing optimisation in supply chain and engine technology developments will further enhance the benefits of LNG as a marine fuel, and we can expect to see continual improvements in engine design and the introduction of solutions such as methane oxidation catalysts that will reduce methane slip. Meanwhile, ongoing improvements in energy efficiency in line with the IMO’s Energy Efficiency Design Index (EEDI), combined with other measures such as enhanced operational methods and speed optimisation, will make further major contributions to emissions reductions.

The guarantee of authentic data adds a layer of security for shipowners, ports and other industry players seeking solid, proven facts around what it means to invest in LNG as a marine fuel now and into the future. With regulations closing in fast, and further legislation taking form as the decarbonisation debate evolves, those building their knowledge base on the latest proven data will be significantly better prepared than their peers to make informed decisions on their investments.

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