Natural gas emerged as the fuel source that exceeded all known and anticipated environmental standards. In addition, liquefied natural gas (LNG) was already being tested as a transportation fuel for trucks and smaller vessels in Northern Europe.
In 2010 when the North American Emission Control Areas (ECAs) were announced, liners passing through these zones needed to consider these regulations. The traditional bunker fuels needed ways to comply with the new regulations. For Tote it was clear that the time for bold action was at hand. The answer was the fuel itself needed change. At the recent Gas Fuelled Ships conference organised by The Motorship, Peter Keller, executive vice president of Tote, outlined the company’s LNG ambitions as follows:
- Natural gas is lighter than air and, when liquefied, is safe to store and transport.
- Vessels carrying LNG as cargo were already using their cargo to fuel the vessels.
- However, LNG as a fuel was not readily available in the U.S. maritime sector.
- In order to mitigate fuel supply risks, marine engines would also need to be able to burn traditional fuels such as marine gas oil (MGO) or marine diesel oil (MDO).
- This would lower the risk for a company converting to LNG allowing multiple fuel types to power the ship depending on deployments and natural gas infrastructure.
Leading engine manufacturers moved ahead with dual fuel technology. Some were experimenting with conversion of existing installed inventory.
In 2012 Tote’s parent company, Saltchuk, approved a plan to convert their ten year old Orca Class ro-ro vessels that serve Alaska to LNG. Tote’s Puerto Rico service operating from Jacksonville, Florida also faced a refleeting decision. A decision was made to build new Jones Act vessels with dual fuel capability at the NASSCO Shipyard in San Diego. NASSCO had built the Orcas and Tote and Saltchuk had confidence the yard could build a quality ship, on time and on budget.
Tote now had both a shipbuilding and a conversion project that would require LNG fuel availability in Tacoma and Jacksonville, the northwest and southeast corners of the U.S. Tote had a lengthy project list it needed to complete in order to successfully implement its broad LNG strategy:
- New build – the Marlin Class with slow speed dual fuel engines.
- Engine Conversion –the Orca Class medium speed re-engine to dual fuel LNG
- Long term LNG supply at the Port of Jacksonville and the Port of Tacoma
- Short term supply at the Port of Jacksonville and the Port of Tacoma
- Transfer capability of LNG fuel to a ship, both short term and long term
In short, in one broad project plan, Tote was addressing almost every aspect of maritime LNG development.
For bunkering LNG Tote entered into a long term LNG supply contract with JAX LNG, a joint venture between Pivotal LNG, a subsidiary of AGL, a leading energy provider in the U.S. and Wespac Midstream which would service LNG requirements in Jacksonville. In Tacoma, Tote chose Puget Sound Energy (PSE). Once the partnerships were established, identifying LNG plant location became critical.
In Jacksonville, JAX LNG purchased a suitable plant site close to the existing container terminal that served Tote’s vessels. This industrial site had suitable gas pipeline connections as well as a pier capable of safely mooring a bunker barge. Road access was also good for other potential users of the LNG. Barge distance from the LNG facility to the Tote facility is about one mile. Truck transfer (short term) and a barge (long term) will transport LNG to the vessels. Long term, it is possible that technological advancements may lead to an underwater cryogenic pipeline.
The LNG bunkering process requires that liner vessels must bunker while cargo is being loaded in order to insure the ships stay on schedule. For the Marlin Class vessels in Jacksonville the supply was coming from 200-400 miles away. With 200,000 gallons of LNG required for each vessel’s bunkering unloading four tanks at a time kept the bunker event to approximately six hours. As the tanks represented a substantial long term investment it was decided to utilize ISO type tanks, built to specification that could be repurposed as needed in commercial maritime service. Once the Tacoma LNG plant is completed the Orcas’ will bunker from a cryogenic pipeline that will run directly from the LNG Plant to the vessel. In order to fuel the vessels in Jacksonville in the longer term, Tote is building the first U.S. LNG bunker barge at Conrad Shipyard in Orange, Texas using GTT membrane technology.
As of September 1, 2015, Tote has launched both of the Marlin Class ships, Isla Bella and Perla del Caribe, at the NASSCO shipyard in San Diego. Isla Bella is scheduled to enter service in the fourth quarter of 2015. The second ship is scheduled to enter service in the first quarter of 2016.
Tote’s first Orca Class ship is tentatively scheduled to begin her conversion in November 2015 to be complete in the first quarter of 2016. The second Orca Class ship will begin her conversion in November 2016.
Both LNG liquefaction facilities are currently undergoing final permitting reviews and are expected to break ground and commence construction in the near future. The coordination and management of all of these projects has been a function of Tote’s outstanding partners who include Pivotal LNG and Wespac Midstream (as JAX LNG), Puget Sound Energy (PSE) and their partner Fortis Canada have insured us of consistent and dependable supply of LNG for many years to come. Tote’s other major partners, Applied Cryo Technologies (ACT), CH-IV, Moffatt and Nichol, and Conrad Shipyard provide expertise and forward thinking that help make these leading edge ventures a success and set a course for a new, environmentally friendly maritime industry.