Ferry Fuel Of The Future: Will LNG Fly?

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October 13, 2011

By Michael Grey, ClayMaitland.com

“It will never work because there is no infrastructure!” I wonder how many times these words, or their 19thcentury equivalents, were spoken by sailing ship owners contemplating the move into mechanical propulsion.

But with the slightest sniff of a demand, those same sailing ships were laden with best Welsh coal, spreading out to establish great piles of coal from Perim Island to Valparaiso. Fifty years on and their sons were probably saying the same words again, as Mr Burmeister and his chum Mr Wain offered their new oil engine to a suspicious shipping industry.

And so it is today, a full century after the beautiful Selandia took marine diesels to sea, that concerns about infrastructure, are producing an air of caution about the provision of LNG as the marine fuel of the future. It got a good run at the recent Interferry conference in Barcelona, and perhaps it should, because ferries surely will be the easiest ships to handle this new fuel possibility.

The “externals” are in LNG’s favour, whether this is the European Union breathing fire and brimstone about its determination to reduce sulphur and other emissions by simply turning off the heavy oil fuel supply, with all the refiners looking the other way. There are real concerns about the ferry trade losing hard won business to the roads, once the cost of the environment is loaded onto the customers’ bills. The LNG price looks good and getting better, there are dual fuel engines available now, and already there are 22 LNG fuelled ships in operation and another 15 under contract.

There are some clever designs around for ferries fuelled in such a fashion, as the layout of these ships, with useful void spaces under the lowest vehicle decks lend themselves to a suitable stowage for the rather large tanks that must be accommodated. Others ingeniously use portable storage, with the fuel for the current voyage rolled aboard in trailer tanks along with the rest of the cargo. There are a few big ferries now being planned for LNG, while there is at least one high speed job being built. And for people worried about the resale value of “novel” ships, the dual fuel concept ought to enable a ship to revert from LNG to diesel without much trouble.

Will LNG fly? Its proponents assert that it is safe and will do what it says on the tin. But even after 40 years of hauling LNG around the sealanes, there are residual fears about its safety that are hard to dispel. But, it is worth remembering that even coal can explode!

This article originally appeared on ClayMaitland.com and is republished here with permission.

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