By year-end, the number of dedicated LNG bunker-supply ships in service will have increased from one to five. But what does the future hold for this new vessel type?
The LNG bunker-supply ship is a critical component of global LNG fuelling infrastructure. Because of this, the specialised ships needed to deliver this cleaner, cryogenic fuel will have a bright long-term future.
The immediate future is more challenging. Demand for LNG as a marine fuel is developing slowly and, although it will accelerate, utilisation of purpose-built LNG bunker-supply ships has to be managed with care to justify the investment needed.
This challenge for the shipowners involved extends across the entire value chain, impacting the delivered cost of the fuel.
Babcock Schulte Energy (BSE) believes that multiple drivers will increase demand for LNG as a marine fuel, which will in turn ensure the commercial success of the ships that deliver it.
Regulatory requirements, environmental benefits, operational efficiencies and through-life savings on fuel and maintenance costs will play a part in generating demand.
Timing and adoption are difficult to predict with certainty. We suggest that the key drivers of LNG fuelling are: the business case ensuring acceptable utilisation, technology and designs for safe delivery of this new fuel to specific ship types, and seafarer training and selection.
The safe operation of this new service is paramount. Technology for simultaneous operations in harbours will be advanced and effective. The training and expertise of the crews that operate this new class of ship must also be of the highest standard.
BSE is investing heavily in training and crew selection, working with equipment manufacturers and educational experts, using the combined resources of Babcock International and Bernhard Schulte Shipmanagement.
Because the cost of retrofitting ships to use LNG as their primary fuel is high, demand growth is likely to centre on newbuildings.
ExxonMobil is predicting that by 2040 gas is likely to account for about 10% of total marine fuels, up from less than 1% now. Momentum is building across many sectors, led by cruise ships, ferries and container shipping. This is due to the reasons indicated above, but cargo owners are increasingly concerned about reducing their carbon footprint.
The design and capacity of LNG bunker-supply ships may change in future. The ships under construction now can generally serve a region, delivering to land and sea-based consumers.
This will enhance utilisation and support the business case in the early years. But smaller, port-based solutions will evolve in major bunkering hubs as new ships that use LNG as their primary fuel enter service and increase port-by-port volume.
Larger bunker-supply ships will then specialise in more complex ship-to-ship operations and transhipment services that require higher parcel sizes.
Read LNG World Shippingís exclusive data, the global LNG-fuelled fleet, 2017