Positioned for growth in alternative fuels

Alan Duckett, Sales & Technical Director of Babcock LGE
Alan Duckett, Sales & Technical Director of Babcock LGE
An LPG reliquefaction skid, part of an LPG carrier's cargo handling system. (Credit: Babcock LGE)
An LPG reliquefaction skid, part of an LPG carrier's cargo handling system. (Credit: Babcock LGE)
Babcock LGE has supplied its Vent Gas Cooler (VGC™) technology to more than 85 newbuild LPG ships – equating to approximately 50% of addressable world market - since the product was launched in 2012.
Babcock LGE has supplied its Vent Gas Cooler (VGC™) technology to more than 85 newbuild LPG ships – equating to approximately 50% of addressable world market - since the product was launched in 2012.

Alan Duckett, Sales & Technical Director of Babcock LGE discusses the company's cargo handling products and the wider LNG and alternative fuel markets in an exclusive interview with The Motorship

Babcock LGE is an engineering, procurement and project management business based at Rosyth (near Edinburgh), providing world-leading design and supply of cargo handling systems for liquefied gas ships. The group has 50 years’ experience and its customers include the world’s largest commercial shipyards in Korea, China and Japan; tier 1 international ship-owners and energy majors.

We have supported our customers during design through to warranty phases, and this knowledge has led to the development of a number of marketleading technologies.

For those of us unfamiliar with your product portfolio, could you just provide a brief overview?

- Vent Gas Cooler (VGC™) – Since introducing this technology in 2012, which enables efficient bulk transportation of Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG), it has been supplied to more than 85 newbuild LPG ships – equating to approximately 50% of addressable world market. VGC™ reduces capital cost and power consumption by up to 15%, providing significant economic and environmental benefits

- ecoSMRT® – Technology for the reliquefaction of LNG. ecoSMRT® delivers up to 35% more reliquefaction capacity per kW absorbed power – meaning reduced fuel consumption and lower operating costs. In the first year of launching ecoSMRT®, we achieved a 40% share of the addressable world market

- ecoFGSS™ – We recently won the ‘world first’ project for a newbuilding gas ship to provide technology delivering LPG as a ship main engine fuel and have now won the option ship, including the same fuel gas technology. ecoFGSS™ will eliminate emissions of sulphur and nitrous oxides, whilst also significantly reducing particulates when compared to conventional fuel oil

- ecoETHN™ – Introduced this year, ecoETHN™ is an integrated Boil Off Gas (BOG) reliquefaction and fuel management system, enabling the transportation of commercial ethane cargoes with up to 2.0 mol% methane

How do your products fit in with broader industry developments towards energy efficiency?

Our technology within the gas carrier cargo handling market is designed to enable the cost-effective and efficient means of seaborne carriage of very large quantities of liquefied gas.

But we are also aiming to optimise performance and energy efficiency, and to provide environmentally-friendly solutions, enabling ship-owners to comply with increasingly stringent international environmental regulations.

Are there any benefits for customers arising from the range of services that Babcock provides?

We are actively working with several world-leading ship-owners and shipyards to optimise energy efficiency on a ‘whole ship’ basis, not just for the cargo system.

Babcock has close relations with some important participants in the LNG carrier space in particular, such as Hyundai Heavy Industries, with whom you developed the ecoSMRT LNG reliquefaction product. Do you have any similar partnerships in the ethane and LPG sector?

We maintain close contact with our clients as we develop new technologies to meet today’s challenges. This ensures that our solutions meet customer requirements and improve the ship’s operating profile, whilst tying in with the shipyard’s own designs.

This collaborative strategy was used during design of ecoETHN™, which has the potential to be market shaping in offering full life cycle benefits, as well as ecoFGSS™ for LPG carriers, where we achieved our first sale this year.

Do you think the retrofit/conversion market for LNG vessels is likely to expand?

We are actively working with a leading ship-owner for the conversion of older LNG carriers with our ecoSMRT® reliquefaction technology, to enable them to compete with the current generation of LNGC. We consider this retrofit market will be an occasional market, depending on commercial and technical drivers for each project.

What are the comparative advantages of ecoSMRT versus competing single mixed refrigerant (SMR) or nitrogen expander technologies?

ecoSMRT® has a number of advantages over competing SMR technologies. We have integrated pre-cooling, which means we are able to remove external pre-cooling from our design – leading to a much simpler plant to operate. Starting up the plant is simple; from switching on the compressor, all functions are fully automatic and capacity is fed directly from the ship’s Gas Management System (GMS). Eliminating the need for external pre-cooling also means that ecoSMRT® needs only a single compressor, which translates to lower maintenance requirements and a reduced spares inventory.

We have optimised the design with an eye on efficiency. ecoSMRT® has arguably the highest Coefficient of Performance (CoP) of the competing designs, which means we can deliver up to 35% more reliquefaction capacity per kW absorbed.

We have a patent pending design which eliminates the risk of oil carryover from the SMR compressor into the cryogenic section of the BOG condenser.

We have also included a gas chromatograph in our design, which is designed to monitor the SMR mixture. If the mixture moves out of optimum composition, the appropriate refrigerant is automatically charged into the system from the top up skid.

How does ecoSMRT’s space requirement compare with other SMR or nitrogen expander technologies?

With our patent pending integrated pre-cooling design, we have been able to develop a compact module which has up to a 40% reduction in footprint compared to competing designs. The ecoSMRT module is fully assembled and delivered as a ‘plug and play’ unit.

What has the market response to ecoSMRT been like since it was launched? Are you able to give any information about references?

Since ecoSMRT® was launched at Gastech in Tokyo, the market pick-up has been fantastic. ecoSMRT was designed specifically with LNGC in mind and to date we have sold 26 modules to 6 different owners in little over a year of active sales. We continue to receive interest in ecoSMRT® and we are optimistic for future sales into a growing LNG carrier segment.

Turning to the LPG carrier market, where your Vent Gas Cooler product is widely used, could you talk a little about the challenges about developing a FGSS system for the first LPG fuelled vessel?

FGSS systems are new to market for LPG VLGCs. The technical challenges included understanding a new process, and developing a plant that was cost-effective and reliable. One challenge was handling the return LPG flow that comes back from the main engine fuel injectors, which contains residual oil.

I also understand that you are conducting a front-end engineering design study into an LPG fuel system upgrade as a retrofit for VLGCs.

Yes, we are completing a FEED for a major owner as potential retrofits to a fleet of VLGCs.

You are also present in the ethane segment. The VLEC market is quite small at the moment – do you have a perspective on how large the market could become?

It is hard to say yet, however, China has a significant number of ethylene cracker projects utilising ethane derived from USA shale gas. The market is a bit stop-go at the moment, but we see good growth potential.

Babcock has released two products for the ethane carrier market – SuperCooler™ and ecoETHN™. Are you hopeful of establishing a similar strong position in that market to your LPG position?

We have two technologies designed for the ethane carrier market and specifically Very Large Ethane Carriers (VLECs). Our ethane SuperCooler™ is an efficiency enhancement that we developed in 2014, which allows the carriage of commercial ethane cargoes with up to 0.8 mol% methane. However, when combined with our VGC™ technology, our plant can handle the BOG from commercial ethane cargoes with up to 2 mol% methane using 3 stage compressors, which we believe is a market first. ecoETHN integrates the reliquefaction plant through a Fuel Gas Economiser to drive further efficiencies, which can be used to increase the methane content of the fuel for the main engine, providing the benefit of reducing methane content in the cargo.

Finally, you have recently announced your intention to participate in Maritime Research & Innovation UK with the University of Strathclyde, LR, BAE and others.  

Yes, that’s right. Although a few companies and universities are highly innovative – for example, we won a Queen’s Award for Innovation recently – Babcock recognised that the UK Maritime sector’s investment in innovation is behind other countries. We have helped to establish MarRI-UK to solve this by jointly developing new technologies and systems. MarRI-UK’s priorities include emissions’ reduction, and it is running a competition now to support the DfT’s Clean Maritime Plan. Other priorities would improve holistic efficiency, autonomy, life-cycle efficiency, integration and safety. Companies and universities willing to commit to funding MarRI-UK will be brought together to update and refine these priorities.

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