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STRAIT TALK

LNG, a fuel for the future? Not everyone agrees

IN A significant milestone in the journey towards routine LNG (liquified natural gas) bunkering in Singapore, Pavilion Energy has performed the first commercial ship-to-ship LNG bunkering. In the operation 2,000 cubic metres of LNG was loaded on to a dedicated LNG bunker tanker at the newly-modified Secondary Jetty of the Singapore LNG (SLNG) Terminal, followed by a ship-to-ship transfer to the receiving heavy-lift commercial vessel.

Maritime and Port Authority (MPA) Singapore's chief executive Quah Ley Hoon said: "Pavilion Energy's first commercial ship-to-ship LNG bunkering operations in Singapore demonstrates our strong commitment and capability to deliver a comprehensive suite of LNG bunker supply solutions to Singapore and the region.

"As the world's largest bunkering port, Singapore is committed to providing a range of bunkering solutions to meet the future energy needs of the global shipping industry. We congratulate Pavilion Gas for completing this ship-to-ship LNG bunkering operation in the Port of Singapore safely, and look forward to more such activities taking place in our port."

While the number of ships using LNG as fuel is still very small, more major owners are moving towards ordering LNG-capable ships. This is partly driven by the impending International Maritime Organization (IMO) 0.5 per cent cap on sulphur in fuel. Burning LNG is an effective way of complying with this regulation, which takes effect in January 2020; burning it also avoids emitting various other pollutants.

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LOWERING GREENHOUSE GASES

However, the much more important environmental pressure bearing down on shipping is the need to reduce carbon emissions or greenhouse gases (GHG) drastically in the next couple of decades. Proponents of LNG as a marine fuel argue that it is a method of reducing GHG and is thus an interim solution on the road to zero carbon fuels.

But environmental groups and some senior people in the shipping industry disagree with this, their principal concern centering around the "methane slip" into the atmosphere. (LNG is mainly methane, which is a powerful GHG, they say.)

Partly because of the criticism of the use of LNG as a shipping fuel, two groups pushing for LNG - SEA\LNG (a multi-sector industry coalition) and the Society for Gas as a Marine Fuel (SGMF) - commissioned data and consultancy provider Thinkstep to undertake a study to ISO standards.

The study, reviewed by independent academic experts is, the two organisations say, a definitive study into GHG emissions from current marine engines.

The study found that GHG reductions of up to 21 per cent are now achievable from LNG as a marine fuel, compared with current oil-based marine fuels over the entire "well to-wake" life-cycle. It also confirmed that emissions of other local pollutants, such as sulphur oxides, nitrogen oxides and particulate matter, are close to zero when LNG is used, compared with current conventional oil-based marine fuels.

AMMUNITION FOR THE PRO-LNG CAMP

This report provides ammunition for SEA\LNG, said the coalition's chairman Peter Keller. "The Life Cycle GHG Emission Study is a long-awaited piece of the 'LNG as a marine fuel' puzzle. It not only confirms what we already knew in terms of LNG's immediate impact on air quality, human health and its cleanliness, but clearly highlights the genuine, substantiated GHG benefits of using today's marine engines capable of burning natural gas.

"Moving from current Heavy Fuel Oil (HFO) to LNG does reduce GHG emissions. LNG does contribute to the IMO's GHG reduction targets. And it is clear that LNG is the most environmentally-friendly marine fuel that is readily available and safe, both today and in the foreseeable future."

Crucially, the report states: "Methane slip reduction at combustion in the engines and methane emission reduction in the supply chain, as well as further improving energy efficiency in combination with other measures such as enhanced operational methods and speed optimisation, will make a major contribution to meeting the IMO's GHG emissions reduction target 2050 for shipping."

SGMF board chairman Chad Verret said: "LNG is safe to use, fully compliant and readily available as a marine transport fuel. Standards, guidelines and operational protocols are all in place to ensure that the safe way is the only way when using gas as a marine fuel. LNG meets and exceeds all current and 2020 marine fuel compliance requirements for content and emissions, local and GHG. With the world LNG Bunker Vessel fleet doubling in the next 18 months and those vessels being deployed at major bunkering hubs, LNG as a ship fuel is rapidly becoming readily available."

So does this mean that the debate is over? Almost certainly not. The environmental groups still don't like LNG. Many in the shipping world see scrubbers as the short- to medium-term answer to the sulphur cap; there are also other contenders in the medium- to long-term, including methanol and hydrogen.