LNG Design: Necessity is the Mother of all Invention

By Joseph Keefe
Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Jensen Maritime Consultants – leveraging a unique porthole on the maritime industry – anticipates and meets demand in the burgeoning maritime LNG sectors. Nevertheless, says Jensen’s Johan Sperling, it’s not rocket science. 

At the recent Passenger Vessel Association (PVA) annual meeting held in Houston, Texas, Jensen Maritime Consultants had on display just a couple of their many design efforts underway at the Crowley-owned design and engineering shop. Naturally, those designs had the use or carriage of LNG as their central theme. LNG, at least on this side of the pond, is still largely uncharted waters, but that’s hardly the case for Jensen. Already at the heart of many new initiatives, it is clear that Jensen will never be far from the LNG epicenter when it finally takes off here in North America.

Early Engagement – Unique Perspective
Although owned by Crowley, Jensen’s client base is wide and includes all sizes and types of tonnage. That said; Jensen Maritime Vice President Johan Sperling says that his firm has a unique view on the industry that, perhaps, some competitors do not. That window potentially provides a sharper look at what could come next. Nevertheless, he says, business is business. “We have NDAs with all of our clients. We have a half dozen, each with somewhat different designs, including Crowley. I’m sure you can imagine that everyone wants to be first, but at the same time do not want to tip off the competitors to what they are doing. At Jensen – and a lot of people don’t realize this – 80 percent of our business is not Crowley-related. So we have strict firewalls in place and we’re very good at keeping promises to others about what we are doing.”
Ongoing in-house projects include the LNG bunker barge, the LNG-powered tug, LNG powered ATB designs and of course, the design work with the larger, faster and environmentally-friendly liquefied natural gas (LNG)-powered, combination container – Roll-On/Roll-Off (ConRo) ships. Already in the thick of LNG, Jensen will provide construction management and supervision in the shipyard throughout the building phase of the ConRo’s.
In terms of Jensen’s LNG tug design, the preliminary work was, to a certain extent, a leap of faith on the part of Jensen. Sperling says, “We have contracts for clients, but we started before we had those contracts and went out on a limb ourselves and decided to design something that would attract those clients.”
The LNG bunker barge was a different story because the maritime industry needs infrastructure to move LNG. Sperling explains, “Harvey Gulf, Tote, Crowley, and Matson have decided to spend a lot of money to build large vessels that will burn LNG and gas. They have to get the gas to the vessels. Meanwhile, there are very few groups are willing to take the risk to help with the ‘chicken and egg’ question.”
Sperling and Jensen nevertheless remain pragmatic. “First of all, it’s not rocket science. We’re not overly worried about the technology itself and I don’t think that anyone else is, either. LNG has been around a long time. Vessels don’t burn LNG, they burn gas. And when it changes to gas, it expands, which can present a problem. You basically take LNG and vaporize it, then it’s virtually the same system as compressed natural gas for over-the-road buses, dump trucks, etc. The safety record is very, very good. But, that said, if you spill LNG, all kinds of things can happen. LNG is cryogenic fluid, is extremely cold and causes myriad of considerations.  So we design to meet those challenges.  From our standpoint these are the most challenging areas. The good news is that this has been done for a long time and it has been long documented and we have in-house LNG experience here at Jensen.”

Defining the Ideal Bunker Barge
Jensen’s bunker barge designs are a closely guarded secret, but Sperling said that Jensen would focus on two basic sizes – ranging from capacities of 2000 to 3000 cubic meters. He added, “If you look at all the carriers that are contemplating or have committed to building LNG tonnage, all of the schedules are different. Some want to top off weekly, for example. Our designs satisfy most of the demands of what a big ship operator could want. The bunker barge has to be large enough to where it makes sense, but also small enough that it is affordable and economical. Others may be building bigger, some smaller. We’ve defined our range.”

Sticker Shock
According to Sperling, the first bunker barge has to be built as economically as is possible. That’s because the first mover in the market will have a limited customer base, at least to start with. He insists, “If it’s too expensive, you’ll have to charge too much for bunkers,” adding, “Once you talk about LNG equipment, the sticker shock is tremendous. In our case, we’re looking at simple cryogenic tanks – cylindrical in construction typically – that is proven technology. That’s the easiest way to get regulatory approvals. And, even though it is new for marine applications, you can point somewhere and say that it works. We’ll incorporate this into our bunker barge designs.”
Jensen’s philosophy is that there is enough risk in these new ventures without introducing unknown variables. Sperling told MarineNews in February, “The Rule of thumb today: LNG equipment is about double the price of non-LNG components. We’re talking about the equipment. Whoever moves first takes the most risk because they are going to spend a lot of money and then the prices are going to drop. You don’t want to be first and get it wrong. This has certainly changed but the exponential cost jump is still there for LNG equipment.”

Risk – and Reward
In the beginning, Jensen went forward with its LNG pioneering efforts for several reasons. Sperling says, “It was a big risk – for a naval architect, time is money and we spent a lot of R&D time on this. In this case, we felt the risk was low enough because we think it’s real enough that someone will eventually pay for it and that’s exactly what has happened.”
Jensen’s LNG design for tugboats got started in 2008. Since then, a lot of water has gone under the proverbial bridge. Sperling adds, “The engine manufacturers are just now ready to do something. And, as you can see, the first LNG tug has just been delivered out of a shipyard in Turkey for service in Norway oil fields. As you’ve probably seen in all those drawings – the LNG tanks were right underneath the house and accommodations. In the U.S. today, for safety reasons, we are designing vessels that put the LNG tanks somewhere else that is not in the same vertical zone as the accommodations. We have some constraints here that make it trickier for us and U.S. operators in general.”

Design Aspects: uncharted waters
As design professionals move forward on the domestic LNG front, they are finding that there are a lot of rules relating to containment that are both published and unpublished. Sperling says in regard to the process, “As of today, there’s nothing official that really ties us down. We need to do various things, and yes, we’ll get the approvals. It’s a special case approval situation. Both DNV and ABS are going to have to work with the Coast Guard. And, we will need to work with them, too. All of us – and the operators, including Crowley – are leading the charge to define what needs to be done, and that comes with a lot of responsibility. So, it’s important that we do everything possible, from the outset.”
 
Tug Propulsion: Dual Fuel or LNG?
Jensen’s tug designs are all pure LNG models. Sperling says there are very good reasons for that. “All of our harbor tug designs are gas only. That’s because we know we’ll have readily available fuel and the size of the engines currently available are appropriate to that size vessel. As it stands now, with the rules and guidelines we’ve been given, we can’t put large tanks aboard a tugboat without making the tugboat twice as big the others. If that’s the case, the capital cost of the tugboat makes is uneconomical in comparison to conventional.”
Based on Jensen’s popular valor class design, their hardworking vessel will feature a 14-day endurance capability for harbor and escort work and will likely be outfitted with an innovative LNG package, including two Rolls Royce model US 255 Z-drives, driven by a pair of Bergen C26:33L6P gas engines. The storage tank will also be supplied by Rolls Royce (via Cryomar) and the vessel will be fitted with a hawser winch forward and a capstan aft for line handling. 

Head of the Class: who is it?
Jensen’s Sperling hedged a little when it came to declaring who would be chosen to provide class on its designs. Although deep in the heart of ABS country, it is also true that DNV has more LNG experience abroad. Because of that, he added, “ABS is doing a great job of catching up and they are doing their very best to make sure that they get to keep the market for small tugs, bunker barges and similar tonnages. I can’t tell you for sure that our designs or those of others are going to wind up being ABS. Right now, it’s a race between the two of them. In most things, whoever is first stands a good chance of being the experts or they could be the goat. In this case, DNV is riding that North Sea wave that they helped pioneer.”

Performance: Does LNG stack up to Diesel?
Jensen’s position on LNG tugs is that they have to make them equivalent or better to what’s out there now. Sperling insists, “Otherwise, people will question it and it is not going to happen. So, the goal is to be better. If you currently have a 40-ton bollard-pull tug, you aren’t going to replace it with a 35-ton bollard-pull LNG tug. That’s simply not going to be acceptable to industry. LNG units will have to have the same or better: in terms of horsepower, bollard pull, response time – everything.”

SITREP LNG: cutting steel?
Sperling is bullish on LNG in 2014, saying ““I wouldn’t be surprised if there is a keel laid in 2014. The reason is – and let’s just take Crowley as an example, since they are a client of Jensen – if there are LNG ships being built, when they are delivered, we better have something in the water that can serve them. In order to do that, we’re going to have to cut steel or order LNG equipment pretty soon. That involves the bunkering for those two ships. For the tugs, that’s a little different. There isn’t a particular need that they have to immediately go serve – it’s more about what risk do the owners want to take? People want to be first in this arena here, but they also don’t want to be first and then lose. My gut feeling is that something is going to happen this year.”

Wild Cards
As the LNG arena unfolds in North America, the variables are many, the certainties few and the competition remains exciting. For that reason alone, the advent of non-traditional players in the infrastructure and bunker side of the business is very real.
Sperling explains, “This is a game between LNG users and LNG providers. And you know that some people have stuck their nose out and at some point are going to have to make sure that there is infrastructure – whether that’s Harvey Gulf, Tote, Crowley, Matson – whoever you pick out there. They need the oil companies to provide them with LNG and they also need someone to move the LNG from the pipeline to the vessel. So there’s a question between the owners and the oil companies of who is going to fund what. We’re very close to having to make decisions.”
LNG itself has an enviable track record in terms of safety, environmental performance and delivering in the workboat arena. No wonder it has arrived on the scene in North America. For Jensen’s Johan Sperling, it is an exciting time as new concepts are brought forward. The same holds true of the Coast Guard and the classification societies. Sperling adds, “Typically, when something new is proposed to the Coast Guard and even the class societies, they can often be critical of the idea, due to the increased risk. But, in the case of LNG, they are open to new ideas that make sense. And for industry, that’s very exciting. And for us engineers and designers, we get to put on our thinking caps and solve problems.”
The LNG arena is new, exciting and bursting with great potential to transform the transportation and energy landscape forever here in North America. LNG is here to stay. A lot of work remains to be done. That said; it’s also not rocket science.



(As published in the March 2014 edition of Marine News - www.marinelink.com)

 

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