Marine Transportation System

Posts Tagged ‘LNG’

Uncertain Future for Marine LNG

In Energy/Environ, Environment on December 14, 2015 at 12:48 am

We welcome a new post by John Graykowski on the subject of LNG as a marine fuel. He describes this period as a “crossroads moment” requiring parties to hold fast to the original timeframe for vessel emissions reductions as set by the IMO in MARPOL Annex VI.

Despite many indications that LNG is gaining acceptance as a marine and transportation fuel, ship owners still appear reluctant to fully embrace the new fuel. Many owners are hedging their bets by installing dual fuel engines and other LNG-specific features on their new vessels, but delaying the installation of the fuel tank and fuel gas system until some later date. Others are placing new build orders with conventional propulsion systems, effectively dismissing LNG as a credible alternative.

Since stringent worldwide limits on fuel sulfur content are scheduled to become effective in 2020, these decisions might seem questionable. A provision in MARPOL Annex VI, however, creates significant uncertainty whether the IMO will in fact hold to this schedule, thus allowing some operators to make a strategic calculation that the limits will be delayed.

Adopted in 2008, Annex VI created a two tiered regulatory structure to phase in fuel sulfur requirements. For those states that implemented emissions control areas (ECAs), fuel sulfur limits were reduced in two stages from 1.5% to 1% in 2012 with a final reduction in January 2015 to 0.1%. Outside the ECAs, the current 3.5% limit is scheduled to be reduced to 0.5% in 2020. However, this will happen only after a mandatory 2018 IMO review which must find that sufficient compliant fuel will be available in 2020; otherwise the limit will remain at 3.5% until 2025.

At that time, there were only two “viable” compliance options for ship owners: use marine gas oil (MGO) or install exhaust gas scrubbers. The natural gas “revolution” was in its infancy and there was little, if any, discussion of LNG as a cleaner and more economical alternative to either MGO or scrubbers. Despite giving fuel suppliers over a decade of advance notice to prepare, the potential magnitude of demand for compliant fuel and concerns that MGO production would be insufficient led the IMO to create this 2018 “gate” before the 0.5% limit would become effective.

A fortuitous confluence of factors led to the emergence of LNG as an alternative marine fuel. The ECAs created unambiguous regulatory imperatives and hard deadlines; the unforeseen increase in worldwide gas production led to a steep decline in prices; and there were no technological barriers to the use of LNG as a propulsion fuel. MGO and scrubbers involve significant expense, provide less comprehensive emissions reductions, and, in the case of scrubbers, increased risk, In contrast, LNG offers compliance with sulfur limits, significant improvements across the entire spectrum of emissions and long term cost advantages. Even with the current drop in oil prices, LNG is projected to maintain its economic and environmental advantages for many years to come. The ECAs made it possible for the first adopters to move forward in the U.S.; the EU to propound a formal policy to support LNG deployment throughout Europe; and Norway to emerge as a dominant player in the marine LNG world.

Experience in the ECAs has demonstrated that concerns about fuel availability are largely unfounded, and that the fuel supply industry can and will respond to demand signals, particularly those driven by clear regulatory requirements and deadlines. The phased approach in the ECAs allowed fuel suppliers and operators to first adjust to the 1% standard and then to prepare for the lower limits in 2015 and resulted in a smooth transition to MGO earlier this year with no apparent supply shortages. This approach had another important impact on marine operators in the ECAs who began looking at LNG as a credible alternative to either MGO or scrubbers.

The Annex VI review provision allows the IMO to consider “other relevant issues” and thus offers the means to include LNG in the analysis of fuel availability. LNG adoption that has already occurred is directly related to the implementation of the ECAs with their interim steps and fixed deadlines. The IMO should emulate this approach by requiring global fuel sulfur limits to be reduced to 1% in 2020 with a permanent reduction to 0.5% in 2025. The ECA experiences and the growth of LNG as a marine fuel provide ample justification to support this decision, rather than simply allowing the 3.5% limit to remain in place.

By 2018, more than 150 vessels worldwide will be using LNG as a fuel; the EU will have bunkering capabilities in several of its major ports; LNG powered ships will be operating in the US; China will be well on its way to transforming its inland fleet to LNG, and Singapore and Korea will be in the midst of building LNG bunkering infrastructure. The adoption of an interim 1% standard would likely galvanize the world shipping community to accelerate the movement to LNG when new vessels are ordered. In turn, this would be an unequivocal signal to the gas supply industries to move forward with infrastructure development, thus banishing forever the chicken and egg cliché in connection with LNG development.

This is a crossroads moment for the IMO and it can make a clear, definitive, and compelling statement to advance environmental quality and affirm its commitment to continued reductions. The US, Canada, and the EU made the hard political decisions to implement stringent marine emissions standards, and the markets have adjusted. As 2018 approaches, the IMO will be under increasing scrutiny from many parties, including those with a vested interest in LNG development. I would urge those nations that have implemented ECAs, or are contemplating them, those that have enacted formal policies to encourage the development of LNG as a marine fuel, and the natural gas suppliers and the environmental communities –admittedly a somewhat nontraditional alliance – to insist that the IMO adopt this phased approach.

Anything less would be a lost opportunity to take a giant step forward in the effort to reduce marine air emissions, and likely would slow the pace of LNG adoption for another five years.   John Graykowski

2013: The Year Before the Year of LNG?

In Efficiency, Energy/Environ, Green Transportation, Infrastructure, Ports on December 29, 2013 at 4:51 pm

A year in which U.S. shipyards announced contracts for over twenty new ocean going vessels (with options for several more) is noteworthy, especially given the recent difficult times experienced by the shipbuilding industry.  What makes this fact even more significant is that LNG as a propulsion fuel is a central feature in each of these vessels, either as the intended fuel source upon delivery or at some point in the future.

So does this mean that the U.S. maritime industry in America has reached the LNG tipping point, where a tidal wave of even more marine projects will be announced in the coming year?  My short answer would be a heavily qualified, but nonetheless definite: “maybe.”

A distinction has developed between ships that will be “LNG-ready” as opposed to those that are “LNG-capable,” the difference being those vessels that will use LNG upon delivery and those that can be converted to operate on LNG at some later date.  While certain design modifications are incorporated into these ordered vessels, such as foundations for LNG fuel tanks and dual fuel main engines, they will operate on conventional diesel fuels when they are delivered.

The reasons for taking a half step to LNG rather than making the plunge are several, among them the additional cost of the entire fuel gas system, including the fuel tanks.  However I suspect the greatest reason is uncertainty related to LNG supplies in the ports where these vessels will call.  This is particularly the case with the product tankers that have been ordered that, unlike the LNG-powered container vessels do not operate in a classic point-to-point liner service.  Their deployment is largely dictated by cargo availabilities throughout the United States and thus, until LNG is more widely available, the owners will likely hold back on a full commitment to LNG.

If one is looking for positive signs on the infrastructure front, they are there.  The Port Fourchon terminal project on the Gulf of Mexico in Southern Louisiana is being developed by Harvey Gulf Marine to serve its fleet of LNG-powered offshore service vessels.  It will be the first operational LNG bunkering facility in the United States and is expected to be operational next year.  Clean Energy has announced its intent to construct facilities dedicated to the marine industry in Jacksonville.  Tote, Inc. issued a request for proposal (RFP) to potential LNG suppliers to provide LNG for their vessel operations based in Tacoma, Washington and Jacksonville, Florida.  Each announcement of new LNG-powered ships results in a deluge of phone calls from potential LNG suppliers seeking meetings and making proposals to vessel owners.  So again, there is clear movement, growing interest and some tangible progress; but it is slow and these projects still face regulatory challenges and uncertainty that may result in delays and higher costs.

Given the delivery schedules of the Tote, Inc. ships, in late 2015 and early 2016, and the Crowley vessels in 2017,  it seems that the window for putting bunker infrastructure in place—completing land acquisition, clearing Federal and local permit requirements, and facility construction—is growing very tight.  This raises the possibility of ships being delivered and no LNG being available, which will greatly increase operating costs due to the requirements to use ultra-low sulfur diesel (ULSD) to meet Emission Control Area (ECA) regulations.

So, to offer a slightly more elaborate answer to the tipping point question, the U.S. is closer today than a year ago but one cannot conclude that the LNG revolution has begun.  Of the limited number of Jones Act liner operators, three have already announced projects–Matson being the third–and another has announced intentions to convert existing vessels to LNG. The product tanker market has been effectively replaced over the last ten years so there are limits to the expansion there.  I think the greatest opportunities for achieving critical mass in a marine fuel transformation can be found when and if several large harbor services or tug and barge companies either convert existing tugs to LNG or CNG or acquire new tonnage or the top-tier international liner companies announce new construction programs with LNG-fuelled vessels.  Either – and certainly both – of these developments would be a critical next step to accelerate widespread LNG deployment.

Marine vessels represent the potential for a large concentrated market for LNG/CNG, and a port that has both ocean going and harbor vessels that need LNG for fuel would surely provide sufficient basis for investments in LNG marine terminal infrastructure for bunkering.

While there is still a way to go until we all agree that the breakthrough has occurred we are seeing some decisions and investments that are the necessary predicate to making LNG a common transportation fuel throughout the country.  John E. Graykowski

LNG: Ports as a Catalyst?

In Energy/Environ, Green Transportation, MTS Policy, Ports on October 10, 2013 at 8:47 am

MTS Matters welcomes a well-known and regarded figure in D.C. transportation circles. John Graykowski, a Principal of Maritime Industry Consultants, served as Deputy Administrator of the Maritime Administration, and for two years as Acting Administrator, during the Clinton Administration. He is an attorney with experience in both private and public sectors. The subject of LNG-fueled transportation and how it might develop in the context of maritime policy and port communities has been a focus of his attention in recent years. This is the first of his contributions to this blog’s musings on port/maritime policy—present and future.

Over the past year, LNG as a marine fuel has gone from novel concept to an accepted alternative fuel here in the United States. Some LNG-capable vessels are operating and more will be under construction as appreciation is growing for the environmental, economic and energy security benefits offered by LNG. This transformation of a marine cargo commodity to emerging marine fuel in here and elsewhere might lead one to conclude that the broad deployment of LNG throughout the U.S. is underway and faces no challenges or constraints—but this is not the case. Lagging behind LNG-fueled vessel development here are the necessary market and regulatory structures that promote its widespread development.

The most common platitude in any discussion of LNG is the “chicken and egg” problem. Ship owners are loathe to make the large capital investment in LNG technologies absent certainty of supply.  Meanwhile gas suppliers are averse to spending $150 million or more on bunkering infrastructure without firm, long term purchase contracts by ship owners. This reflects the lack of historic relationships between the gas supply industry and marine operators, who purchase bunker fuel in virtually every port on a spot basis and never needed long term contracts.

Compounding that is a lack of understanding and knowledge about each other’s industries. Marine operators are not familiar with gas production, transportation and market dynamics and gas suppliers have little direct knowledge about the marine industry practices, requirements, and the like. Emblematic of the divide between the two industries is the simple fact that marine operators purchase fuel on the basis of metric tons or barrels of oil, while the gas industry sells LNG on the basis of million BTUs. Potentially complicating this market disconnect, are increasingly stringent accounting rules that likely require a long term LNG contract to be carried as a contingent liability, thus impairing a balance sheet and constraining future capital expenditures for a marine company.

Beyond these market issues are significant regulatory challenges related to both operational procedures for bunkering vessels and, more importantly, the siting, permitting and operation of small and medium sized LNG marine terminals. It may come as a surprise to some, but there are no existing uniform federal regulatory structures that apply specifically to LNG marine fueling terminals.

The United States Coast Guard (USCG) and Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Administration (PHMSA) each have regulations that apply to LNG fueling terminals. These regulations, however, were developed with large scale export and import facilities in mind and thus are largely inapplicable to a small marine fuel terminal and the fueling of other than LNG carriers. In many cases these regulations may conflict, which creates a large area of potential regulatory confusion and will most likely result in ad hoc development of LNG regulations. Adding to this uncertainty is the probable requirement that these facilities will be subject to local permitting actions, which can provide opponents of LNG the opportunity to intervene and delay the project.

Where do ports fit in this puzzle of a marketplace?

Ports can and should be a catalyst to spur LNG development throughout the transportation industries since they are at the center of marine activities in the United States. They provide a ready-made, multi-modal market for LNG expansion beyond large oceangoing vessels, which includes ferries and harbor craft, trucking, and rail operations. Port agencies may have some degree of jurisdiction, and even control, over property where LNG operations will occur. Depending on the port, it may have a role in the siting, permitting, financing, development, or even operations of an LNG fueling terminal. As a responsible economic development agency, a port can also play a critical role in the public education and promotion of LNG and the mitigation of local opposition to such projects.

Public port agencies generally understand this is a constructive role they are in a position to play. We are seeing that in isolated initiatives, notably on the West Coast, as well on an international scale with Antwerp leading a working group that includes the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.

The expansion of LNG and compressed natural gas (CNG) as a replacement fuel in port related operations, already showing benefits, is also a powerful tool that ports can use to achieve significant emissions reductions and thus reduce the cost and impact of increasingly more stringent environmental regulations or measures to meet local community demands. If LNG is used to fuel vessels’ auxiliary generators while in port there may be no need to install costly shore power systems for cold ironing since equivalent emissions results could be obtained with LNG.

Collectively, ports can be in the forefront of a “Green” initiative, leading to the expansion of LNG as a transportation fuel throughout the nation. Individually, ports that facilitate LNG bunkering operations could find them to be a competitive factor in attracting and retaining liner business as those companies bring LNG-capable vessels on line to meet IMO global standards by 2020.

Much has been written of the significant impact that domestically produced natural gas and its liquefied form will have on our on our nation. Ports are where all surface modes of commercial transportation intersect and where LNG distribution will naturally occur. They are in a position to be influential in the development of national policies that promote and accommodate the broad deployment of LNG as a transportation fuel.
John E. Graykowski