Natural gas will become increasingly important, accounting for 23% of the global primary energy demand. The inter-connectivity of the gas market has expanded exponentially in terms of efficiency, scale and more importantly safety.
Let’s have a look at how these valuable resources are transformed and transported worldwide!
Natural gas is plentiful and it is the cleanest burning fossil fuel. The natural gas pipeline networks can be carried out in a country, however this is both costly and impractical to be conducted across borders and continents. Through the liquefaction process, the natural gas is converted to liquid form, making it easier to transport.
Known as liquified natural gas or LNG, it was first transported in a World War II freighter, called Methane Pioneer in January 1959. The LNG carriers’ design and technology has seen a vast improvement since the industry kicked off in the 1960s. The vessel provides a link between the location where the natural gas is liquified and delivered to the marine imports terminal where the LNG is converted back to gas in the re-gasification process.
Only 13 shipyards in the world are capable of constructing the LNG carriers which could take anywhere between 20 to 35 months to build. There are about 500 LNG carriers operating worldwide, carrying anywhere between 35 thousand to over 6 million cubic feet of liquified natural gas, under the temperature of -258 Fahrenheit.
The two main containment systems on the LNG carriers today include the spherical moss design and the membrane design. The most identifiable spherical moss design was first built in Norway, named Norman Lady was delivered in November 1973. Since then around 140 Moss LNG carriers have been constructed in shipyards all over the world.
The modern LNG carrier is usually about 975 feet (300 meters) long and 140 feet (42 meters) wide. In order to operate in certain maritime zones, the carrier must comply with the regulatory requirements set by several governing entities, including the International Maritime Organization, International Gas carrier code, and the US Coast Guard. The odern designs are also Panama canal compliant and a cargo volume of about 6.3 million cubic feet.
The cargo containment system in the inner of the double hull LNG carrier is usually set near to the atmospheric pressure. The LNG is maintained at the below freezing temperature by releasing a small amount to evaporate, known as the boil off gas. The boil off gas is used to power the steam turbine engines, enabling the LNG carriers to travel at a speed of upto 21 knots in open waters.
The LNG carrier also functions as a floating storage unit (FSU) or floating storage and re-gasification unit (FSRU). The carriers can perform ship-to-ship offshore transfers between LNG carriers with LNG re-gasification vessels or floating storage units. This is conducted only during favorable weather conditions. Needless to say, a good communication plan and coordination as well as skill and experience is required to ensure a safe connection and transfer between the two vessels.
The source and demand for energy knows no boundary. Newer LNG carriers are being developed emphasizing whole design and propulsion with better insulated tanks that have resulted in an 11% drop in carbon emissions and gain in propulsion efficiency.
In the Arctic region, the ice-breaking LNG carrier began its journey in 2017. The custom designed vessel built to operate above the polar circle can navigate through almost 7 feet (2 meters) of ice and 50 feet (15 meters) of high waves. The vessel was built to withstand the challenging Arctic environments where the temperature drops to -58 Fahrenheit breaking through 5 feet (1.5 meters) ice at a speed of 5 knots.
Though the LNG itself is deemed to be safe, the daily operation of the LNG carrier doesn’t come without risks and potential hazards. Needless to say the Officers and the crew of the LNG Carriers are skilled, experienced, and trained to meet the internationally recognized standards from cargo handling, fire fighting and shipboard operations. The crew onboard often perform the simulation exercises for various scenarios that could potentially happen.
The future outlook for LNG is brighter than other fossil fuel resources due to the comparatively lower cost and lower carbon emissions. The issue of de-carbonization and growth in renewable energy may pose a threat to the future of LNG but with every threat and challenge in the increasingly and competitive market comes the opportunity to be innovative in conducting business.
The fairly new trade that began in 1960s still has a room for upgrades and improvement. Expansion in the upstream and downstream of the LNG market can reap the benefit of the transitioning period between coal or oil-based energy-driven economies to renewables. Gas energy is expected to make up a large share of the global energy synergy mix in 2050. So in the decades to come, the LNG stakeholders play a significant role in providing the increasing demand of the ever-changing and evolving economies of the world.
Watch this awesome documentary explaining how the LNG carriers are shaping the economies of future!