LNG seen as clean shipping fuel
DELFT _ Shipping accounts for more than 90% of global trade and 2.7% of man-made emissions. The International Maritime Organization is forcing ship owners to make deep emissions cuts: of 20% by 2020 and 50% by 2050. Which explains industry protests but also the search for alternatives to the cheap, tar-like and highly polluting fuel commercial ships use today.
“The shipping industry lags behind in the field of emission requirements,” says Dan Veen, business developer at the TNO Maritime research center. “Heavy shipping diesel is the most contaminated fuel there is.” A recent UK report warned emission cuts will put more cargo onto roadways. It said shifting to liquefied natural gas as a fuel “not appropriate for most existing UK vessels.”
TNO Maritime sees LNG as an alternative shipping fuel whose time has come. It has the same advantages as car fuel: it burns cleanly, with almost no nitrogen oxide, sulphur oxide and particulate matter. LNG must be stored in liquid form, at -162 C. What if there is a gas leak? In that case, LNG will heat up, reform into gas and fizzle into the air. It will not ignite as that requires a specific oxygen-gas mixture. A cigarette in an LNG-tank has no consequences.
TNO has been carrying out safety checks for LNG-powered ships. “We want to prove it’s cleaner, safer and better’, says Veen. With the help of 14 shipping owners, gas tank makers and vessel classification bureaus, TNO researchers are studying the material characteristics of the wall of an LNG tank by exposing it to different forces and temperatures. Using the results of collision imitations and simulation models that show how ships deform after a collision “we know how strong the tank is, when it will start leaking and where to locate the tank on board. This would ideally be on the side of ship, because the storage of cargo is preferred in the middle,” says Veen.
But converting ships to LNG fuel is costly. “You can’t keep postponing. The maritime industry must also take its responsibility,” says Veen.