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    Fitting bits and bobs so LNG bunkering blitz does not pop [Gas in Transition]


The rapid expansion of LNG bunkering is highlighting the need for globally standardised infrastructure as well as regulations and practices. As more ports compete to supply the cleaner burning gas to fuel ships, it is important these elements are in place to ensure safe and efficient operations. [Gas in Transition, Volume 3, Issue 11]

by: Vincent Wee

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Natural Gas & LNG News, Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG), LNG Condensed, Insights, Premium, Gas In Transition Articles, Vol 3, Issue 11

Fitting bits and bobs so LNG bunkering blitz does not pop [Gas in Transition]

With LNG bunkering entering the mainstream recently, an often overlooked element is the infrastructure needed to ensure that the increasingly popular cleaner-burning fuel can be safely and efficiently delivered.

The demand for LNG, as well as other low-emissions fuels, to be transported and supplied as bunkering fuel is only set to increase and along with this it is emerging that there are complex requirements in the process that need to be addressed.

"LNG will always need shipping around the globe which will involve more infrastructure to support it, not least as it transitions to synthetic and bio-LNG. The LNG industry demands integrated solutions rather than an array of individual, piecemeal products, so our primary focus at Trelleborg is engineering LNG solutions that offer configurability, compatibility, and flexibility," said Trelleborg marine and infrastructure president Richard Hepworth.

Among the issues faced is the uneven pace of development between major ports and the lack of standardisation of equipment, safety protocols and regulations.

For example, some of the bigger ports, and especially the established bunkering centres in East Asia and Western Europe such as Singapore and Rotterdam, have gotten into the game earlier and are well set up with more advanced facilities  and a proper regulatory regime.

Other ports are quickly catching up as more players see good opportunities in the sector and start making investments in infrastructure as well. But the biggest drawback for these new players however is the gap in practices and standards that they need to quickly overcome in order to effectively compete.

According to LNG advocacy group SEA-LNG, there is a clear demand for LNG bunkering infrastructure in the Middle East and North Africa.

Quickly seeking to capitalise on this trend are key Middle East gas players such as the UAE, Oman and Egypt, as well as powerful new entrants to the LNG bunkering sector such as Qatar, with its vast gas reserves.

Advances and changing standards

A series of technological advances and new standards, such as an ISO standard for LNG quick connect and disconnect couplings introduced in 2019, has boosted the LNG bunkering sector and enabled new competitors to join in.

But as the global market has developed, systems have moved on from single-port suppliers with their own proprietary connectors to multiple-port players using various channels to supply the product.

Previously, ships running on LNG would typically always be fuelled at the same port, using connectors that were often unique.

Now, global trade routes and the type of ships requiring LNG bunker supply are changing, competition is ubiquitous and LNG terminals come in at least three distinct shapes and sizes: ship-to-ship, shore-to-ship, and truck-to-ship.

This has highlighted the safety and compatibility risks that arise from using LNG as a bunker fuel. The process of standardising equipment and fittings still has some way to go and there are also currently no global safety regulations for LNG bunkering. 

According to Bureau Veritas, safety procedures concerning LNG transfer and bunkering are still unstandardized and vary greatly by region, which may lead to confusion for new players in the market. This is critically important to address, as the risk to LNG-fuelled ships rises significantly during bunkering operations, and especially during simultaneous operations or SimOps, when secondary activities are conducted on board the vessel alongside bunkering operations.

For example, with the growing LNG-fuelled containership fleet, it is increasingly common to discharge cargo while refuelling. In this case, operators must mitigate risks on LNG transfers during bunkering operations while also taking into consideration the risks inherent in the cargo such as containers carrying dangerous goods for example.

Trelleborg's Hepworth points out that the globalisation of traditional liner trades is pushing the requirement for standardisation of interfaces and solutions.

This requires all the various vessels and bunkering facilities to have compatible shapes and functions and be equipped with the right connections.

These risks can be offset through industry-wide collaboration, including shipowners, equipment manufacturers, and classification societies, to establish common guidelines for the safe use of LNG, adds Bureau Veritas.

This would unify the various standards and frameworks that now exist under a range of codes, guidelines and frameworks set by related organisations and local authorities to govern the bunkering of LNG.

"The maritime industry has the potential to be a deeply collaborative environment, where shipowners, offshore operators, equipment manufacturers and classification societies come together to innovate," said BV Marine and Offshore global market leader for sustainable shipping Julien Boulland.

Meanwhile, the transport and supply of LNG to a more diverse range of users now also means that the equipment being used has to be able to cater to them as well. The investment in this infrastructure needs to be well thought out as it has the potential to cater to a wide variety of use cases which are also starting to emerge out of the shipping industry's decarbonisation paradigm shift.

"As the pace of innovation outstrips regulation, it’s important that energy companies, engineers, manufacturers and technology developers collaborate to find consistent, compatible ways of working. This will enable agile, symbiotic infrastructure to support the evolution of the LNG industry and ensure solutions are developed with the foresight to pivot or adapt as alternative fuels gain traction," said Hepworth.

"From Trelleborg’s perspective, we believe that it’s important that we develop innovations that enable the LNG industry to work more flexibly to reflect ongoing trade dynamics, ensuring systems and solutions can be easily adapted to pivot towards emerging energy trends," he added.

Equipment provider Trelleborg has used its many years of expertise in integrated ship-shore link technology development to design universal fittings for the LNG bunkering sector.

For example, its GEN3 SSL/USL hybrid systems allow bunker vessels to replenish their tanks at LNG terminals and then service global markets.

Beyond improving current standards, operators and users also need to have a bit of a future-forward approach to adopting new technology. The groundwork laid by the current efforts to improve LNG bunkering will hold the industry in good stead for the safe transfer of other alternative fuels as these start to come into play in the mid-term future.

"Operational safety protocols for LNG will find echoes in methanol and ammonia transfer, as stakeholders repurpose their knowledge of risk management, bunkering equipment and connections," noted Bureau Veritas.

"There will always be industry mavericks who present disruptive solutions and accommodating them to ensure safety is their number one consideration can only benefit the industry," concluded Trelleborg's Hepworth.

Like the USB connector in the PC world, the standardised fittings and other assorted infrastructure required to make LNG bunkering happen are small but vitally important parts of the process.

Along with globally standardised practices and regulations, the collaboration and coordination of all industry players will go a long way towards making LNG bunkering safer and more efficient for all.