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    [NGW Magazine] Rotterdam port goes green


Rotterdam, by far the largest European sea port, has ambitions for bunkering LNG – but not as we know it. Bio-LNG is the way forward, it says.

by: Koen Mortelmans

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[NGW Magazine] Rotterdam port goes green

This article is featured in NGW Magazine Volume 2, Issue 11

By Koen Mortelmans

Rotterdam, by far the largest European sea port, has ambitions for bunkering LNG – but not as we know it. Bio-LNG is the way forward, it says.

In collaboration with the Dutch National LNG Platform, the Port of Rotterdam Authority has started to study opportunities for developing LNG from renewable sources as a transport fuel in the port.  

It is focusing on bio-LNG rather than on regular LNG, because the bio variant allows its users to drastically reduce their CO₂ emission levels. Dutch government authorities and companies share a common ambition that, by 2021, at least a tenth of the LNG supplied to end users, will be bio-LNG. 

Electric transport options are expected to form a major means to cut back CO₂ emissions in passenger transport over the next few years. Today however, electric propulsion systems are not a viable alternative for inland shipping, maritime shipping or heavy road transport. LNG is already supplied as a transport fuel to shipping and heavy road transport from the Gate terminal –operated by Gasunie and Vopak– in the port of Rotterdam. It has three tanks, two jetties and one loading quay. 

Compared with diesel and fuel oil, LNG is a far cleaner option, with a significantly smaller ecological footprint. On top of this, bio LNG offers another advantage: the emitted CO₂ is part of the so-called short cycle: CO₂ emissions are actually neutralised by the associated CO₂ uptake such as horticultural greenhouses. And today, 18% of the Dutch CO₂ is emitted in the port of Rotterdam.

Eight companies, all of them members of the National LNG Platform, will support the study with their technical, legal and financial expertise and market knowledge. The partners aim to have the study completed by the second half of 2017. Based on the research findings, it will be decided whether – and if so, how – Rotterdam will develop a bio-LNG programme.

Market study

The researchers first will examine the existing and expected availability of production technologies and processes up to 2030. They also will perform a market study, including scenarios about the availability of sustainable feedstock and the future development of demand. Finally, they will look for business cases for the production, transport and transhipment of bio-LNG in the port area. But already today the Rotterdam port area is the largest bio based cluster in Europe. The largest investments will generally have to be made by private companies, but the port will offer support with attractive accommodation conditions, connecting infrastructure and support in acquiring construction permits and finding financing. The port is also prepared to make its own risk-bearing investments or to take stakes in companies where investments are needed to bring about the energy transition.

LNG fuelled ships

Energy companies cannot wait for detailed studies and political master plans to be completed. Recently the French energy firm Total acquired the Dutch Pitpoint Clean Fuels, with headquarters in Nieuwegein near Utrecht, about 40 km from Rotterdam. Pitpoint was a merger of several Dutch companies, involved in both CNG and LNG. In combination with Primagaz, it wants to develop at least 15 fuel and bunkering stations for LNG in the Netherlands. According to Pitpoint-director Erik Kemink, in the Netherlands there is room for at least 40 LNG filling stations.

Seven years ago the Dutch transport sector used almost no LNG. At the end of 2016, it was used by six ships and about 400 trucks. Today, Pitpoint uses about 100 CNG and/or LNG-stations in the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany. Its target is to have 350 stations operational in those countries by 2022. Buyers and retailers can specify green gas when they order it, in the same way they do green electricity: with a green certificate Financial problems at the Korean ship builder STX Offshore & Shipbuilding have delayed the construction of the LNG bunkering ship ordered by Shell to use in Rotterdam. But as soon as it is operational, it will bunker four new Sovcomflot tank ships, chartered by Anglo-Dutch major Shell. 

Those ships, with a length of 250 metres and a capacity of 141,000 metric tons, are the first LNG fuelled ship of this scale. The Gate Terminal is also contracted by Finnish Containerships to supply LNG to four new ‘short sea’ ships that are used for coastal navigation or between Netherlands and the UK. These will become operational in 2018. And in 2019, the American cruise line Carnival will bunker LNG in Rotterdam. Last year, shipping company Barkmeijer Shipyards ordered a dual fuel (LNG + diesel) dredging vessel. The Ecodelta is to be operational by 2018. It will be used mainly for dredging tasks in the port of Rotterdam, replacing a ship that is 30 years old ship. 

Remaining role for fossil resources

The port of Rotterdam also aspires to become a flagship as well as a laboratory for a low-carbon emission society. The German Wuppertal Institute for Climate, Environment and Energy has been looking at the options available for Rotterdam if it is to align its industrial sector with the CO₂ targets set out in the Paris Agreement on climate change. Winding down specific industrial activities was not one of them, since the need for chemical products and fuels of all kinds will remain. Stopping making some sorts of products would only result in the same kinds of goods being imported.

According to the CEO of the Port of Rotterdam Authority, Allard Castelein, German research shows that it is possible to drastically reduce CO₂ emissions. He says in a document published by the port that the various projects that Rotterdam is working on align very well with the detailed transition pathways, in particular the use of residual heat; and the capture and storage of CO₂.

The Port of Rotterdam Authority, the Rotterdam heat grid company, the province of South Holland, gas transport system operator Gasunie and energy company Eneco have signed an agreement to realise a ‘heat rotund’ in South Holland. This rotund has to become an open heat transport backbone. Any heat supplier can inject heat, as long as it does not generate heat from burning coal. Gas is one of the remaining options.

The energy transition however involves a large number of steps taken by a large number of companies and other parties over an extended period. “The study shows this transition is feasible. It can be seen mainly as a call to launch new initiatives,” Castelein says.

Combined pathways

The Wuppertal study shows four possible transition pathways, involving augmented use of biomass, the capture and storage of CO₂ and the almost entire recycling of fossil resources. Rotterdam is intended not to choose one of the proposed pathways, which each present their own challenges or bottlenecks. It would instead prefer a combination of the several options. A number of projects underway, such as the development of the regional heat transport grid, are already in line with these transition pathways. 

Although the German study does not assign an important role to any methane conventional or otherwise, the ‘combination’ approach offers some leeway to involve it. The port is even thinking about building a pipeline to connect companies in the port area with depleted gas reservoirs in the North Sea, where the captured CO2 may be stored. 

An international research team, coordinated at the Radboud University in Nijmegen, is investigating the feasibility of this storage and its possible effects on employment in the Netherlands, Scotland and other areas that will be hit by the reduction in gas production and processing. 

Koen Mortelmans

Biogas: cleaner than you think.

A new study published by the Natural Gas Vehicle Association (NGVA) shows that using natural or biogas as a fuel for passenger cars cuts greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) by 23% compared with petrol and by 7% compared with diesel.  

NGVA commissioned life-cycle analysts Thinkstep an industry-wide assessment of the supply of natural gas to Europe and its use in the European Union, mainly in the transportation sector. 

Thinkstep found, using thoroughly researched data to piece together the carbon footprint, that gas is not only cleaner than earlier studies have shown, when considered from the wellhead to the wheel, the wake, or the grid, depending on the application; but that it would become even cleaner when mixing with even small amounts of locally-produced biogas. 

Greenhouse gas intensity of natural gas, intended for use as a reference study and using certified metrics to calculate its data, also says that using renewable gas provides additional benefits towards carbon-neutral mobility: by blending natural gas with just 20% renewable gas, GHG emissions are reduced by 40% compared with oil-derived fuels.

The reductions are greater in the heavy goods trucks sector, with both LNG and compressed natural gas (CNG) cutting emissions by about 15% compared with diesel. In the marine sector, the cuts are even bigger, at 21% compared with conventional heavy fuel oil.

In addition to the low GHG emissions, natural gas is the cleanest fuel to guarantee a particulate free combustion, aromatic free and close-to-zero non-methane hydrocarbons as well as dramatically reducing NOx emissions. 

The study also highlighted the important role bio-gas (LNG and CNG) can play in the future fuel mix.  Locally produced bio-fuels will contribute to local economic development in cities and regions across the EU, as well as providing increased security of energy supply to that region. These benefits can be realised as part of a comprehensive EU transport and stationary energy ‘menu’ of options.  

Improvements in vehicle engine technology for gas and biomethane are also likely to be substantial, particularly for dedicated gas engines, the study concludes. Efficiency improvements are steadily reducing gas consumption and emissions. The production of bio-gas from renewables will further support the development of natural gas vehicles.

William Powell