Making headway into alternative fuels
LPGreen, a joint development project between four leaders in the maritime industry, has been working on a concept design for an LPG carrier capable of operating on LPG fuel.
The successful outcome of an innovative project depends very much on the parties involved and in the case of the LPGreen design concept, Kostas Vlachos, COO of Consolidated Marine Management (CMM), believes the mix is perfect. “The LPGreen project could not have happened at a better time. With 2020 fast approaching, the shipping industry will have to make the right decisions in regard to the proper option and avoid spending a lot of money unnecessarily to meet the new regulations coming over the horizon.
This concept of LPG carriers offering the efficient option of burning LPG is new. Nothing like it has been developed in the past,” says Vlachos. He should know. Athens-based gas carrier owner and operator CMM, a company of Latsco Shipping, is one of the four industry leaders partnering to develop the LPGreen concept design. By contributing the expertise of a ship operator, CMM is key to the project.
Apart from CMM, the partners to the LPGreen concept design project include the shipyard Hyundai Heavy Industries (HHI), the cargo handling systems manufacturer Wärtsilä Oil & Gas (WAR), and DNV ¬GL as the classification society.
Seeking to develop a safer and more energy-efficient, environmentally friendly and competitive vessel for the transport of LPG products, the project utilizes the latest advances in machinery technology, ship design and operational experience. Within the bounds of existing shipbuilding methods it pursues the clear target of arriving at an LPG carrier concept design that can be ordered and built immediately.
Vlachos, a former chairman of Intertanko’s powerful Hellenic Mediterranean Panel, is a member of Intertanko’s executive council, its safety and technical committee (ISTEC) and its chemical committee. He says the idea for the concept of using LPG as a fuel was first voiced several years ago. The project took shape in November 2015 when the partners formally agreed to cooperate, with the actual project work launched in May 2016.
The LPGreen project pursues five main objectives: use LPG as a fuel; develop a highly fuel-efficient vessel; increase load rates to spend less time at terminals; and, most importantly, give utmost attention to both safety and an ergonomic arrangement of machinery to improve the safety of the ship personnel as well as ship operability.
Almost a year into the project, the partners agree the results to date have been good. The goal is ambitious, and with the highly valuable contributions of HHI and cargo handling system provider Wärtsilä Oil & Gas, the primary targets have been achieved: the new design will enable savings of five per cent to nine per cent in total consumption for all stages of operation (loading, discharging as well as sailing in laden condition and under ballast, including chilling and maintaining pressure), compared with the reference design, a conventional VLGC built by HHI.
CMM and HHI have been enjoying a strong working relationship since HHI began building gas carriers for the Greek operator at the South Korean yard in 2002. CMM embarked upon this project with a focus on finding a practical, energy-efficient design that is both competitive and safe, “with the safety aspect at the top of the list,” says Vlachos. “Any concept which is not safe is of no use to anyone,” he argues.
Safety tops the list
George Dimopoulos, Principal Specialist for R&D and Advisory, DNV ¬GL South East Europe & Middle East Region, who manages the LPGreen project, says CMM’s operational experience provided invaluable insight into the design aspects. “CMM collaborated very actively and closely with DNV¬ GL on most of the safety aspects, a very important concern for the entire project,” he stresses. “About half of the project’s roughly 130 new ideas and vessel features involve safety criteria.”
Intensifying environmental pressure is driving energy efficiency improvements across the shipping industry. As the LPGreen concept matures, it will allow LPG-fuelled LPG carriers to become a reality, says Vlachos. The results obtained so far are encouraging: “We have a steady baseline,” he says, “since the vessel the project is based on is CMM’s own 54,400 dwt, 84,000 cbm VLGC Hellas Gladiator built in 2016. She is a modern and very efficient ship so all results of our project are true achievements.”
Summarizing the project status, George Dimopoulos says the design concept is technically feasible, competitive and practicable. “Comparisons with the reference ship demonstrate that the concept improves overall efficiency by up to nine per cent, reduces energy demand for the cargo handling system by up to six per cent, potentially cuts loading times by up to 35 per cent, and reduces fuel costs through the use of LPG fuel by up to 30 per cent,” he points out.
Being able to draw on the extensive experience and competence of DNV¬ GL in the LPG shipping sector as well as the classification society’s advanced analytical tools has enabled this consortium of international industry leaders to create an innovative ship concept with tangible improvements for the project partners.
The project has utilized the latest advances in machinery technology, ship design and operational experience within the bounds of existing shipbuilding methods. The contribution of the DNV¬ GL computer modelling tool COSSMOS has been greatly appreciated: “COSSMOS allowed the project to take an analytical approach to data gathering and evaluation. Various options were compared, and the whole project proceeded in a highly professional, focused way towards the main goal: a design concept for a more energy-efficient VLGC operating on LPG,” says Vlachos.
He believes this is the first time the complete cargo, auxiliary and propulsion machinery was modelled, simulated and optimized for a full operating profile, and the COSSMOS application made this possible. “The role of this and other advanced technologies in identifying the best solutions for the industry is finding more wide-spread recognition,” he points out. “There is no doubt today’s computational methods speed up the development process considerably, enabling us to examine the numbers and reach conclusions faster.”
Promoting the concept
Vlachos also notes that LPGreen is an international project in which Greek shipping has taken a leading role, working closely with other leaders across geographies and coordinated by the Piraeus office of DNV-GL.
CMM’s COO says shipowners and their customers should be made aware of the concept as the industry is considering using LNG as a ship fuel. “But on an LPG carrier, that is not the best option,” he emphasizes. “I believe LPG ships burning LNG are not the right idea to pursue, since LPG is already available on board LPG carriers and adding a second gas fuel (LNG) will add to the overall complexity.
Rather, the market should discuss the LPGreen concept, and by the market I mean all the players, from owners, charterers, clients, to shipbuilders, equipment makers and bodies such as Bimco, SIGTOO and Intertanko. They all should promote the idea of burning LPG rather than natural gas and formulate the proper clauses in charter parties for that purpose, because this involves a complex set of regulations.
In fact, the concept is a legal matter that should be addressed as soon as possible. Until now nothing has been done on this front, and time is moving fast.” This is a good time to promote a new design concept as ship newbuilding prices are reasonable, Vlachos points out.
Until all parameters are clear and all questions answered, CMM will hold off on ordering a new ship, however. “We have always wanted to lead the way but have to wait and see what happens in the coming months, but I expect market pressure to speed up acceptance of the LPGreen concept design,” he says.
The far-reaching deviations from traditional designs will make the LPGreen concept attractive, he believes, not only in terms of the type of fuel burned by the main engine but also the changes affecting the cargo reliquefaction plant. Meanwhile, Wärtsilä is proposing a new configuration with only two redundant cargo compressors instead of the typical three.
Further efforts are needed to make charterers aware of the innovative features of the LPGreen design regarding bunker capacity as well as loading and discharging procedures, Vlachos adds. “Charterers in particular have to be brought up to speed about the development since increased capacity and reduced time spent in terminals is of great interest to them, along with the significant reduction in fuel consumption during all stages of operation. Besides, it is simply necessary to have the charterers on board.”
The LPGreen concept offers great benefits to VLGC owners and operators. “Now it is up to us to convince the Asian market to follow. The concept is a revolution compared to the classical designs. It secures a lot of energy savings and safety advantages. It opens the road into the future, and that is what we at CMM have chosen as our mission.”
The decisive factor that has made this truly innovative and practicable concept possible is close collaboration of representatives of all key industry segments — builders, vendors and class. “All the partners in this project have given their best, offering their knowledge and experience from their respective sectors,” Vlachos emphasises.
This article was originally published in DNV GL’s 'Gas Carrier Update'.
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