Alfa Laval opens gas test site
Alfa Laval's extended test and training centre aims to be the most advanced testing site for gas combustion in the marine business
At Alfa Laval’s testing and training facility in Aalborg, Denmark, the equipment manufacturer and its marine customers are gaining experience with the fuels of the future.
On 1 March the company opened a major expansion of the centre devoted entirely to gas. At 1,350m2, the aim is for the site to be “the most advanced test centre for gas combustion in the marine business,” says Peter Leifland, president of Alfa Laval’s marine division.
“Our investment in the Alfa Laval Test & Training Centre reflects the extraordinary changes we see in the marine industry,” he adds. “Tightening emissions legislation is driving many customers from residual fuels towards LNG and other alternatives. As a comprehensive marine supplier, we must be at the cutting edge in supporting our customers, no matter what fuel they choose.”
The original 250m2 testing space opened in 2014 is a full-size machine room on land, equipped with Alfa Laval products that are installed and integrated into major process lines around a 2MW, MAN Diesel & Turbo four-stroke marine engine. The site has been a hub of research and development for many of Alfa Laval’s key marine sectors, including exhaust gas cleaning, ballast water treatment, steam production and fuel cleaning.
Now a further 1,100m3 have been added to focus on combustion technologies for gas and other fuel alternatives. Among the new equipment are burner systems, inert gas systems and – a centrepiece of the site - a full scale, 23m high gas combustion unit (GCU), used on LNG carriers to burn off excess boil-off gas not needed for propulsion, steam generation or electrification. With capacity to burn 4.5 tonnes of gas each hour, the site’s GCU is similar to those used on 60MW, 174,000m3 gas carriers.
It’s worth noting that the gas used in the testing centre is not the LNG that is becoming an important fuel in the marine sector, but is piped from a mains connection. But given the purpose of the centre this is no problem – LNG is transported as a liquid but converted to gaseous form before combustion. The properties of the natural gas piped into the Aalborg centre are therefore similar to those of the LNG carried on vessels when it is burned. The set up also avoids the need for cold cryogenic storage, although the company notes that it may extend the role of the site to test such equipment in due course.
Alfa Laval has a substantial portfolio of equipment for both gas as fuel and gas as cargo operations. It includes Alfa Laval Aalborg dual-fuel boiler systems, the Alfa Laval FCM One Gas booster system, Alfa Laval Smit inert gas systems and the Alfa Laval GCU, as well as a complete range of heat exchangers for working gas at different pressures. And the company believes even more solutions will be required in the future.
“Within 15 years, it is expected that thousands of vessels will be sailing with LNG as fuel, compared to the hundreds using gas today,” says Lars Skytte Jorgensen, vice president, product centre boilers, Alfa Laval. “We can clearly see emission regulations driving the trend. But the success of the transition will depend in large part on advanced technology, much of which has yet to be developed.”
In the newly expanded centre that development is already underway. Alfa Laval is currently testing a new dual-fuel burner for gas-diesel applications on smaller boilers, which will later be developed into a multi-fuel solution in partnership with the Danish Technical University in Copenhagen. Another development project focuses on large burners and boilers, involving comprehensive tests with both gas and diesel flames. The GCU will also be subjected to test flame and heat flow characteristics in different conditions to identify possibilities for improving performance even further.
According to Leifland, the original centre has proved a considerable boost to Alfa Laval’s product development. “After just three years of operation, we can point to many areas where the centre has accelerated our R&D and improved its quality,” he says. “Exhaust gas cleaning, where our Alfa Laval PureSOx platform is fully ready for the 2020 global sulphur cap, is just one example.”
The global sulphur cap is encouraging operators to look not just at the potential of scrubbers, but also at LNG, and Leifland hopes for a similar productivity boost for gas-related equipment at the new facility. As Julien Bec, vice president of LNG as fuel at membrane containment specialist GTT notes, the development is a timely one.
“It takes two to three years to design a ship, so the process of developing a 2020-ready vessel should begin now,” Bec says. “That also means that solutions need to be available to be used in three years’ time.”
According to numbers cited at the opening by Mark Bell of the Society for Gas as a Marine Fuel (SGMF), LNG operation is an option that many ship owners are set to examine more closely. While the current 100 non-gas carrier vessels fuelled by gas represents around 0.2% of the global merchant fleet, that number could reach around 1,500 by 2025, Bell estimated. That is still some way off the 20% market share that LNG suppliers are aiming for, but Bell expects further progress – notably in the price competitiveness of gas and in some key technology areas such as bunkering connections – to accelerate uptake.
Gas is not the only non-conventional fuel that Alfa Laval is working with. The company has recently passed a milestone for its FCM One LF (low-flashpoint) booster system, reaching 4,500 hours of operation with methanol fuel on seven methanol carriers chartered by Waterfront Shipping Co last year.
The booster uses a two-stage process to raise the pressure at which methanol is supplied from the day tank to the engine, raising the supply pressure of the liquid fuel to around 10 bar before it is injected into the engine cylinders – at much higher pressure – by MAN’s booster injection valves/
The seven vessels, the first to employ two-stroke engines burning methanol, were built for three different owners at two yards, adding complexity to a project that was already breaking new ground. The successful delivery of the novel propulsion and fuel system was due in large part to cooperation between Alfa Laval, as the fuel supply system manufacturer, and MAN Diesel & Turbo, designer of the ME-LGI (liquid gas injection) two-stroke engines.
“MAN Diesel & Turbo has worked closely with Alfa Laval in development projects like xxhaust gas recirculation, where Alfa Laval’s PureNOx technology cleans the circulation water,” says Søren Jensen, vice president and head of R&D, two-stroke business at MAN Diesel & Turbo. “That, together with deep expertise in fuel conditioning, made Alfa Laval the natural choice to deliver the low-flashpoint supply systems for methanol.”
New booster developments are already underway. MAN is currently modifying the ME-LGI engine series to use LPG as an alternative fuel, and once again Alfa Laval is preparing the booster system. After more than one year of development, the first Alfa Laval FCM One LPG will be delivered to the MAN’s Copenhagen test site in the coming weeks.
“Tests of the engine and booster are expected to be completed by the end of 2017,” says Roberto Comelli, business manager, fuel conditioning systems, Alfa Laval. “In the meantime, Alfa Laval is preparing to support MAN when the first LPG-related orders come in.”
Kjeld Aabo, customer director at MAN Diesel & Turbo adds: “The effectiveness and market-readiness of our ME-LGI engine technology has been clearly demonstrated by the fleet. Alfa Laval’s low-flashpoint booster technology has played a significant role in that success, and we look forward to further cooperation as the application develops.”
Both in meeting new regulations and in paving the way for different fuel types, the new centre will be vital in Alfa Laval’s plan to bring customers the most environmental and energy-efficient solutions. “The rate of change in marine legislation is increasing, and ship owners and operators are forced to keep in step,” Leifland notes. “With the expanded capabilities of the Alfa Laval test & training centre, we will ensure that onboard technologies are ready to meet their challenges – whether the fuel is diesel, gas or something else altogether.”
The 2017 Gas Fuelled Ships Conference will look at the use of low flash point fuels as a maritime fuel, including take up and feedback by operators from different sectors and will also explore the development and use of alternative fuels.
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