Bringing LNG to big tankers
Sovcomflot’s gas-fuelled Aframax tanker series has demonstrated a need for LNG in some regions, says SCF Group COO Igor Tonkovidov
Once upon a time, a few years ago, we sat down and thought about the environmental and the regulatory challenges we have in front of us as a member of the shipping industry. We saw ahead of us SOx reduction, particulate matter and IMO’s plan for greenhouse gas emission reduction.
So, we played around with options to comply with each matter. We found that when we discovered the optimal solution for one, it didn’t work well for the others. Then we started thinking the other way around was there a solution that could help us reach all these targets? When we thought about trying LNG as the main bunker fuel for our fleet, it was not designed just as a solution for 2020, but rather as a breakthrough that would meet our wish of exceeding all these regulatory challenges, rather than simply complying with them.
Why LNG? We saw that it immediately solved SOx and NOx emissions, dramatically reduced our carbon profile and nearly got rid of particulate matter an issue in dense shipping areas. We started looking for partners in the project; no shipowner can solve these issues on its own.
First, we determined which engines we could use this fuel with. At that time Wärtsilä was beginning its project to develop low-speed LNG engines. Eventually we fell on their solution now Winterthur Gas & Diesel’s X-DF engine. It was a simple and user-friendly engine to run on tankers the vessel we were trying to imagine was designed to carry oil and gas; not a common design but nonetheless well suited for some regions.
The second question was where to get the gas? In close collaboration with Shell, we solved this chicken and egg problem they started simultaneously building their bunkering vessel Cardissa which they later deployed in Rotterdam. There was good reason for this location. A large part of our business is in the Baltic Sea and because this is in an emission control area, you are competing not against heavy fuel oil but against diesel, which made the economics of the whole project easier.
On top of this, many ports started welcoming cleaner fuels, giving some regulatory and cost concessions, including discounts on port charges. Then you had savings on the voyage operating costs, although at the start there was quite a big capital expenditure element for the construction of the ship – 15-18% on top of a conventional tanker.
Out of these considerations our LNG strategy was born. We called the newbuild ship Gagarin Prospect. It is the first big ship carrying commodities on clean fuel.
LNG fuel has good prospects for adoption as a fuel for vessels operating in the Arctic, especially considering how sensitive the Arctic environment is and how high Arctic safety standards are. The Arctic is also destined to become an emission control area. So in October 2018, we organised a pilot voyage through the Northern Sea Route to test the operation of the ships and control of the LNG fuel systems in these conditions. The transit was completed in less than eight days and proved the vessels’ high icebreaking capabilities and their safe and environmentally friendly operation.
There are now six ships on the water and five others on order. Sovcomflot plans to introduce LNG fuel across other tanker classes in its fleet depending on their trade patterns, as more bunkering options become available. The first operations have convinced us that we made the right choice and that for some areas of the world, LNG will be the bunker of the future.