Breakthrough Week for New Very Large Ethane Carriers

An illustration of the ECO STAR 85K VLEC.
An illustration of the ECO STAR 85K VLEC.

It’s been a breakthrough week in the development of the first Very Large Ethane Carriers (VLECs) with major announcements from two of the world’s leading classification societies as the U.S. shale gas boom fuels demand to ship ethane abroad.

International classification society ABS says it has been selected to class the world’s first series of VLECs to be built in South Korea by Samsung Heavy Industries. The contract calls for six 87,000 m3 VLECs to be built at SHI’s shipyard in Geoje for an Asian shipowner, ABS said. Reports circulated in August that the vessels were ordered by India’s Reliance Industries Ltd. for $723 million.

Adding to the news of VLECs was DNV GL, which said it has signed a letter of intent with Hartmann Schiffahrts Gmbh & Co. KG, Jaccar Holdings, HB Hunte Engineering for the classification of five VLECs.

The five vessels, of the ECO STAR 85K design, will have a capacity of 85,000cbm each and will even be ethane-fueled. The cargo tanks of the vessels mark another breakthrough as it will be the first use of the so-called “Star-Tri-Lobe” tanks, DNV GL said. The new type of tank combines three cylinders into one, resulting in higher efficiency and allowing for an increase in cargo capacity of nearly 30% compared to similarly sized vessels with conventional tanks.

The announcement of the five ECO STAR 85K vessels follows Hartmann Schiffahrt’s unveiling in late August of the smaller ECO STAR 36K design, a new type of liquified ethene/ethylene carrier also boasting a number of industry firsts including the same new tank design, a forward superstructure, and a dual fuel engine capable of running on ethane. The ECO STAR 36K was also developed in cooperation with engineering consultants at HB Hunte Engineering.

The demand for new types of ethane carriers is primarily being buoyed by increased U.S. oil and gas production as a result of the shale gas boom and the relative difficulties traditionally associated with ethane bulk transport.

“We are delighted to have received the class contract for the world’s first large ethane carriers,” says ABS Vice President of Global Gas Solutions Patrick Janssens, speaking to this week’s VLEC announcement. “As a result of the shale gas boom in the US, ethane is developing as an exciting new market with great potential, requiring the development of new ship types.”

Lloyd’s Register has also had its hand in the development of VLECs ranging in capacity of 84,000 to 90,000cbm. A report from Lloyd’s Register released in August stated that a critical factor needing to be addressed in large ethane carriers is the containment technology. The report said that historically ethane has been transported in small liquefied ethane/ethylene carriers (LEC) with Type ‘C’ containment systems and a maximum feasible size of around 40,000cbm.

Leonidas Karistios, Global Gas Technology Manager of Lloyd’s Register, said: “We have been studying the potential for ethane for over a year and we asked the question, ‘What would a safe and efficient 80,000 m3 ethane carrier look like?’. The answer is that to transport larger quantities in a single hull will almost certainly require the adoption of alternatives to Type ‘C’ gas containment systems.”