Will LNG Change Shipping Forever?

Here is an excellent article written in the International Business Times about the movement to convert ships to liquefied natural gas, and how the conversion could lower prices for goods and "revolutionize" how we ship consumer goods in the future.

These ships may be the vanguard of a global boom in LNG-powered shipping, produced by the explosion in U.S. fracking and by new international emissions restrictions. Liquid natural gas may end up turning global shipping on its head, as shipping companies look for an edge in their battle to cut costs and reduce carbon footprints.

The world as we know it today would not exist without the behemoths that traverse the high seas. An astonishing 80 percent of global trade is carried by ship: the Nikes on your feet, the gasoline in your car, the Toyota Prius in your driveway all came on container ships.

In February, San Diego-based TOTE Shipholdings ordered the world's first LNG-powered container ships. It also plans to convert its fleet of four ships to LNG power. “The biggest driver is the environmental benefits of LNG,” said Ben Christian, TOTE project manager.

In January, the Mississippi-based Gulf Coast Shipyard Group launched the first of six LNG dual-fuel offshore supply vessels, the first of their kind in the Gulf of Mexico.

And in Europe, French operator Brittany Ferries recently ordered a massive, 2,500-passenger LNG-powered passenger ferry expected to enter service in 2017. General Electric and petroleum giant Royal Dutch Shell are also looking to get in on the act.

Fuel typically amounts to 70 percent of the overall cost of moving a container ship from A to B; most ships today run on cheap, dirty bunker fuel. It's a dense oil residue said to contain 2,700 times more toxic sulfur than vehicular fuels. According to studies cited by the watchdog group Transport & Environment, air pollution from shipping causes 50,000 deaths in Europe alone every year. Regulations to be introduced by the International Maritime Organization next year and in 2020 will make high-sulfur fuels, such as bunker fuel, illegal for use in ships sailing in numerous emission-control zones around the world.

Enter LNG, which, unlike bunker fuel, contains no harmful sulfur dioxide, emits 26 percent less carbon dioxide, and produces almost zero smoke.

"The relative low price of natural gas and LNG compared to current high residual bunker and distillate fuel prices in the U.S and Europe has added to the attractiveness of LNG," wrote Frederick Adamchak, an adviser at New York-based brokerage Poten & Partners, in an industry publication last year.

And yet, of the 87,000 vessels that make up the global fleet today, LNG ships number just 50. So why isn't everybody converting their ships to a cheaper, abundant, cleaner fuel?

LNG presents challenges: building and converting ship engines takes time and is expensive. That's an important consideration in an industry where profit margins, hit hard by overcapacity after the global financial crisis, have shrunk in recent years.

Hundreds of LNG bunkering and refueling facilities will also have to be built at ports around the world.

“As of today, the infrastructure of LNG supply is limited and installation of LNG engines is an expensive investment. But LNG might be a viable solution for new-built container vessels sometime in the future when the infrastructure is in place,” said Mikkel Elbek Linnet, a spokesman for shipping giant Maersk Line, a unit of Denmark-based AP Moeller Maersk A/S.

Maersk Line is doing just that with the launch last year of the first of a fleet of 20 massive ‘Triple E’ container ships, slow-sailing giants -- the longest ships in the world at 400 meters (1,312 ft) -- that recycle engine heat. Maersk says they will consume approximately 35 percent less fuel per container than some smaller vessels.

However, many major ports have already started the move to gas. The Belgian port of Antwerp, Europe’s second-busiest container port after Rotterdam in the Netherlands, expects to open bunkering facilities for LNG-powered ships at the end of next year. In February, ground was broken on America's first such facility at Port Fourchon, La.

To read more, click HERE.

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