LNG bunkering for US coming soon

Getting LNG bunkering vessels built quickly is top of LNG America’s goal list Getting LNG bunkering vessels built quickly is top of LNG America’s goal list
Industry Database

LNG’s longstanding ‘chicken and egg’ conundrum may be at an end as the very first US LNG bunkering vessels are in sight.

These barges, ordered by LNG America, aim to meet the first flush of gas-powered supply vessels entering operations in the Gulf of Mexico late next year.

“It became clear quite quickly that at the very top of LNG America’s ‘goal list’ was that we start building as soon as we can,” says Johan Sperling, vice president of Seattle-based Jensen Maritime, the company behind the designs for the distributor.

The vessels will have a fairly flexible remit, being involved with moving and supplying gas from LNG America’s Louisiana supply source to coastal-based storage and distribution terminals as well as being involved in directly bunkering larger vessels and restocking LNG supplies.

The craft will be breaking very new ground. The fact is that although LNG handling may be mature in other sectors “dealing with fuel at -163 C is still unusual for the bunkering industry” says Mr Sperling. “All this is tricky, you can’t just putter around with LNG for days without the temperature being very carefully considered.”

He points out that apart from one small bunkering vessel in Stockholm there’s a dearth of examples to draw from, even mature countries like Norway still tend to fill up straight from a truck. “We are actually the guineapigs in all this,” he says.

“So, simplicity is key,” adds Mr Sperling. Jensen is involved in designing a range of sizes, running from 1,000 to 3,000 cubic metre capacity vessels. However, despite the innovative lead these craft are not aiming at extremely novel, high tech solutions but rather relying on existing technology. “The fundamental idea is to utilise existing tank design technologies rather than complicating things. This way we see the path to approval being much simpler, after all, the barges need to be available when these new gas fuelled vessels come out.”

He admits that this means there are always dangers inherent in being ‘first’, including making all the headway to find out that others are capitalising on your efforts, “but it’s one of the risks you have to deal with as an early mover: the exciting part is that we are getting into the market at the beginning and hope to put our stamp on it”.

And being one of the first in the US may be a big deal. Although the initial moves toward LNG bunkering came from Europe, it has been more a case of tax breaks than making serious money. Now given the US’ recent gas bonanza America may now take the lead. “History tells us that the US is capable of moving mountains when it wants to drive something forward,” says Mr Sperling.

Further, although obviously Harvey Gulf are going to be first to take advantage of the bunkering facilities, other non-niche players will get onboard given bunkering development: Mr Sperling expects the tankers and containerships to benefit from both the greener operation and some significant cost savings.

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