Investing in new container ships running on LNG fuel will enable shipowners to comply with IMO and regional environmental regulations for decades, according to experts at Riviera Maritime Media’s LNG: a bridge to net zero for box ship operators webinar, says an article published on their website.
About the event
This event was held 31 May 2023, sponsored by Kaleris/Navis, during Riviera’s Container Shipping & Trade Webinar Week, when owners, operators, ship designers, builders and system suppliers gained insight into the benefits of alternative fuels and loading systems.
On the panel of the webinar were GTT product line developer for LNG-fuelled ships Jonathan Blicher, Wärtsilä Marine Power general manager for technical sales Figosta Zhou and Navis Germany product manager Gerald Lange.
They agreed LNG using single-fuel or dual-fuel engines enables owners and operators of container ships to exceed compliance of IMO’s energy efficiency design and operation indices and carbon intensity index (CII).
Mr Zhou said LNG is a strong choice as a transitional fuel for CII compliance well into 2030s. Owners can then fuel their container ships with LNG derived from biomass or produced through carbon capture technologies to continue compliance.
“There are clear benefits of LNG as a fuel for high CII ratings compared with conventional fuels,” said Mr Zhou. “After 2035, using e-LNG will take owners to their targets.”
There are 51 container ships operating or close to completion using LNG as fuel, all requiring gas engines, tanks and handling systems, which is less than 1% of the fleet.
But of the container ships on order, 70% are being built ready to use some form of alternative fuel, mainly methanol and LNG.
Wärtsilä is a market leader, having sold more than 170 shipsets for gas fuel handling and more than 2,900 dual-fuel engines. “There is no one-size-fits-all for fuels, but LNG is a solid option now, while bio LNG and e-LNG are for the future,” said Mr Zhou.
Mr Blicher said bio-LNG could be ready earlier than e-LNG as this depends on the availability of green hydrogen, which would also be needed to produce green methanol and ammonia. But he expects LNG to have a long-term future as a low-emissions fuel, with no sulphur, NOx or particulate matter.
“LNG is proven as a fuel. In the future there will be a multi-fuel environment with LNG having a major share, as it enables us to act immediately to reduce emissions,” Mr Blicher said.
“As a business case, LNG works, which is why we are improving our solutions to offer more efficiency for the LNG journey.”
Although methanol has advantages in terms of lower capital expenditure than LNG, he said, “LNG is better for reaching net zero”.
Infrastructure for bunkering LNG either in ports or on their outskirts is improving, with bunkering vessels such as Clean Jacksonville providing services to commercial ships offshore Florida since 2018.
Ultra-large container ships
GTT has also been involved in fitting out LNG-fuelled container ships such as Gas Ability, operating since November 2020, and Gas Vitality since January 2022.
Ultra-large container ships being built in China and South Korea are destined to use LNG fuel and smaller LNG-fuelled container ships, down to 15,000 TEU are under construction.
Innovations are being developed to support LNG as a fuel on smaller commercial ships, said Mr Blicher. These include improving LNG tanker boil off rates, increasing pressure in LNG tanks, improveing gas recycling and cooling and the emergence of LNG blocks, which are built in shipyards prior to a ship retrofit.
Engine designs are improving and there are developments in exhaust aftertreatment to reduce methane slippage into the atmosphere.
“Methane has higher global warming potential than CO2, but it has been reduced over time,” said Mr Zhou. “We are working to reduce this with cylinder head developments and aftertreatment technologies.”
Another challenge with LNG is bunkering operations in ports, which could extend ship call times. But Mr Lange said using loading computers could reduce this time considerably.
“LNG bunkering can be in parallel to cargo handling, but this adds another layer of complexity to operations,” he explained. This can be managed if bunkering is “seamlessly integrated with loading and unloading programmes” and through using loading computers. “This improves safety during these operations.”
Container shipowners and operators will also need to monitor vessel performance during voyages to demonstrate they are meeting requirements under CII.
“CII compliance is a journey and there will be increasing requirements,” said Mr Lange. “Performance monitoring is important for compliance. There are tools to ensure compliance with environmental and safety regulations and to raise efficiency.”
Webinar poll results
Attendees were asked to vote on a series of poll questions during the webinar. Here is a summary of the results.
In your opinion, what do you believe will be the primary fuel choice for container ships in 10 years?
Marine diesel oil/very low sulphur fuel oil: 11%
What do you consider as the primary enabler for adopting LNG as a fuel?
Stronger environmental regulations: 21%
Expanded availability and infrastructure for LNG: 31%
Lower capital expenditure: 32%
Increased experience and feedback from industry stakeholders: 16%
When embarking on an LNG fuel journey, who would you primarily rely on?
Ship designer: 10%
Equipment manufacturer (tank, engine, etc): 79%
Industry associations and research organisations: 11%
What is the primary factor driving your choice of fuel?
Environmental impacts: 6%
Economic considerations: 27%
Availability and infrastructure: 31%
Technical feasibility and compatibility: 12%
Does your company have a clearly defined target date for achieving net-zero emissions as part of your overall strategy?
The terminal’s stowage planner does not have access to information about specific ship restrictions during cargo operations, particularly during LNG bunkering
Strongly agree: 6%
Strongly disagree: 12%
Port stays will be considerably longer in LNG bunkering ports in the future
Strongly agree: 23%
Strongly disagree: 9%
LNG bunkering and changes in port operations will shift the focus from operational efficiency to a balanced focus between safety and efficiency
Strongly agree: 17%
Strongly disagree: 0%
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