Infrastructure development for access to LNG bunkering in port

Due to the upcoming regulations on sulphur emissions, LNG as a marine fuel has become a more interesting alternative in the last few years. However, in order to become a realistic alternative to today’s oil products, LNG must also be available for bunkering in ports. Hence, an effective infrastructure for LNG is essential in order to make it feasible as a new fuel for the maritime market. LNG related studies have been an important area at SSPA for many years and a large share of today’s LNG fleet has passed SSPA’s tests and design support. Clients have consulted SSPA for studies and advice on LNG key issues such as terminal layout, port operations, risk analysis, bunkering operations, and infrastructure development.

Among the many on-going LNG projects at SSPA is one that investigates the possibilities of developing a more effective infrastructure for access to LNG for the maritime market. The aim is to identify potential locations of new maritime terminals for import of LNG to Swedish ports.

Location criteria and important parameters

In order to find out which of these ports are the most appropriate location of a new LNG terminal, several areas need to be taken into account. Perhaps the most important factor is the strategic geographic location of the port, which includes not only the amount of suitable and interested traffic in the port, but also the possibilities of offering quick, effective and customised bunkering solutions to all types of traffic.

One of the main parameters that a port must consider before deciding to establish a LNG terminal is the available market for bunkering of LNG. The potential maritime market must not only be evaluated on the basis of the current situation, but also with a future perspective in mind. Depending on the political incentives and the outcome of the current discussions on how the future regulations on emissions of SOx and NOx will actually be fulfilled, the number of LNG fueled vessels may vary.

One should also consider that a ship based import of LNG can further improve the supply security and flexibility for other users of natural gas, which are today dependent on a working pipeline network or truck deliveries (e.g. industry and land transport). Synergy effects, however, are highly dependent on an effective distribution system on the land side.

From big scale to small scale

Currently, the most common type of LNG tanker is the import type of vessel, with common sizes in the range of 80,000 m3 - 260,000 m3. These vessels are used for large scale import of LNG and they typically travel from producing countries, such as Qatar, to end users in USA, Europe or South Korea. These vessels are too large to be used for import to smaller terminals, and the only terminal planned for in Northern Europe for this type of import tanker is Świnoujście in Poland.

Among the smaller LNG tankers, feeder vessels, with sizes between 7,500 m3 -  20,000 m3 are becoming more common, especially in Northern Europe. These types of vessels are ideal for the smaller coastal and inland waters traffic and they can be used for distributing LNG to smaller terminals in ports along the Swedish coastline.

The key issue for maritime use of LNG as a fuel is still bunkering. Onshore installations could be difficult to integrate with a port infrastructure and trucks can only supply smaller amounts of fuel within a given timeframe. Thus, a bunker vessel is most often needed in order to achieve an effective bunkering solution that can provide sufficient amounts of LNG within a reasonable time.

An example of a possible transport chain for maritime use of LNG. Photos: Johan Gahnström, Rex Features /IBL bildbyrå, Karl-Johan Raggl, Jim Sandkvist.

Geographical and technical conditions

The most important geographical issue is, of course, the location of the port in relation to the traffic and the potential market. However, fairways, turning areas and port layout are also very important, to terminal design in order to reach a reasonable level of safety. To comply with the existing regulations and recommendations, it is important to take into account the interaction with other activities within the port, and to optimise the port layout and design in the surrounding area. This is particularly important since LNG handling is potentially dangerous work and therefore requires high levels of operational safety.

Technical solutions and continued record of safety

Despite the many risks and considerations that need to be assessed, LNG has nevertheless proved to be a safe choice of fuel and throughout the history of maritime LNG transport, there have been few incidents and almost no accidents. One must remember though, that LNG is still a hazardous substance and the safety record is thus the result of stringent safety efforts, which have continuously surrounded the handling of LNG in maritime business. Continuing this record of safe handling is of utmost importance and this can only be achieved through risk awareness, operational training, adequate safety distances during bunkering processes and well prepared contingency plans on all levels.

Future development and challenges

With continued efforts to minimize the potential risks and a well planned infrastructure for effective access to LNG in Swedish ports, LNG has all the potential to become the number one choice of fuel for the maritime market. SSPA is available to further support the development of a safe and efficient LNG infrastructure for the maritime market, and SSPA can handle all sorts of challenges regarding LNG development, including conflicting interests, developing potentials, optimisation of logistics, terminal design and operational safety.

Photos and illustrations

Artist impression of the oil harbor and berthed vessel next to the planned LNG terminal in Gothenburg.

Infrastructure development for access to LNG bunkering in ports.