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Flexible solutions increase the feasibility of small-scale LNG terminals

Tue 16 Apr 2019 by Ed Martin

Flexible solutions increase the feasibility of small-scale LNG terminals
Crew board the UTS platform to assist in hose and ship-shore link connection, but during transfer operations it is unmanned (image: ConnectLNG)

The development of small- and mid-scale LNG terminals is enabling the infrastructure to support the growth of this increasingly popular fuel source

Despite with the rise of renewable energy sources, gas remains a solid backup option when there is not enough sunlight for solar or strong enough wind for turbines. But traditional terminal infrastructure for interfacing between ship and shore is ill-suited to smaller-scale applications.

Building fixed jetties requires tonnes of concrete and steel, with construction times and costs prone to exceeding estimates. The environmental impact of such work brings additional regulatory challenges to these projects.

Anticipating the growing demand for small- and mid-scale projects in areas such as the Caribbean, Naturgy sought an alternative solution of help it meet the needs of these markets. Naturgy head of LNG projects engineering & technology José Miguel Moreno Blanes, speaking at the LNG Ship/Shore Interface Conference Europe in London at the end of 2018, explained that the company eventually selected ConnectLNG’s DirectLink solution as the most viable option.

DirectLink is a modular LNG transfer system that comprises a floating jetty, known as the Universal Transfer System (UTS), connected via floating, flexible pipes to modular onshore infrastructure.

To connect with DirectLink, an LNG carrier moors at a multi-buoy mooring system and the UTS is placed alongside by a tug, with a floating umbilical transmitting signals and power to the platform from shore. The UTS’s vacuum attachment system is then used to secure a connection directly underneath the ship’s manifold. Using the ship’s crane, aerial hoses on the UTS are hooked up to the ship’s manifold and transfer can begin.

Crew board the platform to assist with hose and ship-shore link connections, but during transfer operations the platform it is unmanned, as all systems can be remotely monitored and operated from shore.

The timeframe for loading and discharge is roughly 10-20 hours. A fully redundant ballast system means the unit can follow the LNG carrier vertically during loading or discharge, and as the system is floating, tidal differences are essentially irrelevant. The current design can operate in maximum significant wave heights of 1.2 m, in currents of 7.4 m per second and winds of 14 m per second, according to Mr Blanes.

The UTS is fitted with fire, smoke and gas detectors and CCTV cameras provide operators with a full overview of the platform during operations. If fire, smoke or gas leaks are detected, an emergency shutdown will be automatically triggered and the process flow stopped.

The first UTS, la Santa Maria, was successfully trialled in October 2017. The trial involved La Santa Maria connecting to LNG carrier Coral Energy and transferring cargo to onshore facilities in Herøya, Norway. This was the first commercial LNG transfer to be carried out using floating cryogenic hoses and the first delivery of LNG to Herøya.

ConnectLNG chief commercial officer Magnus Eikens noted that the permitting from Norwegian authorities for this operation took only three months, as compared to a fixed jetty project in the same area that took three years.

Looking ahead, Mr Eikens noted a version of the UTS is being developed that will be able to handle full-scale offloading of large LNG carriers with a typical required flow rate of 12,000 m3 per hour; ConnectLNG also anticipates a need for smaller units capable of operating in inland waterways.

Small-scale infrastructure

In Antwerp, LNG terminal operations are set to benefit from the construction of a new bunkering pontoon scheduled for completion by mid-2020.

Titan LNG and Fluxys are co-operating on the project, with Titan LNG to be the long-term operator.

Known as FlexFueler 002, the LNG bunkering pontoon will be based at Quay 526/528 in the port of Antwerp. Fluxys holds a concession for the provision of LNG bunkering services at the site and currently provides truck-to-ship facilities. The pontoon will provide bunkering capacity for inland waterway vessels and small coasters throughout the port of Antwerp and the surrounding region.

Titan LNG also developed the first pontoon of the type, Flexfueller 001, set to start service in Amsterdam in May 2019. The company’s chief executive Niels den Nijs said: “The use of LNG as a marine fuel is rapidly growing. We are convinced that the Titan LNG FlexFuelers are the missing link to safe, economical, and speedy LNG delivery in the ARA region. We feel strengthened by our Fluxys partnership and have identified ample opportunities to expand the cooperation in other geographies.”

Fluxys chief executive officer Pascal de Buck added: “The pontoon is yet another link we are adding to the logistics chain in Belgium to make LNG more widely available as an alternative fuel for ships”

The Wilhelmshaven FSRU is targeted to enter operations in 2022 (image: Uniper)

Titan LNG is also involved in the development of downstream infrastructure at LNG terminals elsewhere and has signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Uniper to develop small-scale downstream supply at Uniper’s planned FSRU at Wilhelmshaven, Germany’s only deepwater port.

“The Wilhelmshaven FSRU project will provide LNG companies from the US, but also other countries, with the opportunity to deliver LNG into the German and European market”

The terminal will enable loading of small LNG-fuelled seagoing vessels and barges and will also feature several truck loading bays to enable transport of LNG by road – a growing market in Germany, where the Federal Government subsidises logistics companies and provides toll-free use of roads for LNG-fuelled trucks. Titan will work with Uniper on the development of the technical and commercial interface for small-scale LNG at the Wilhelmshaven project.

Japanese shipping company Mitsui O.S.K. Line (MOL) has signed an MoU with Uniper to develop the Wilhelmshaven FSRU; MOL will own, finance and operate the vessel. The facility is targeting the second half of 2022 to commence operations. It will have a natural gas sendout capacity of 10 billion cubic meters (bcm) per year and storage capacity of more than 263,000 m3. Wilhelmshaven is the only German site with a deepwater port and can be reached without tidal constraints.

ExxonMobil Gas Marketing Europe has entered into a Heads of Agreement (HoA) with Uniper regarding a long-term booking of a substantial share of regasification capacity at the FSRU. The HoA was signed in January 2019, with a goal of entering into binding agreements “soon”.

Uniper’s chief commercial officer Keith martin said: “The HoA is an important step towards the realisation of the Wilhelmshaven FSRU project. The FSRU will provide LNG companies from the US, but also other countries from around the world, with the opportunity to deliver LNG into the German and European market. This will increase security of supply for customers at competitive price levels.”

Dunkerque LNG expansion

Its position at the entrance to the North Sea makes Dunkirk's LNG terminal well-suited to meet Europe's growing demand for LNG bunkering, according to Dunkerque LNG director of business development Cécile Grégoire-David, speaking at the LNG Ship/Shore Interface Conference in London in November last year.

Cécile Grégoire-David (Dunkerque LNG): A dedicated small-scale jetty to accommodate vessels sized from 3,000 cubic metres is planned at the terminal

The bulk of LNG-powered vessels currently operating are Norwegian or European-flagged, and this trend is set to continue when vessels on order are added to the equation.

Discussing ways in which the port intends to boost its bunkering capabilities, Ms Grégoire-David explained a truck-loading bay is due to commence operations in the near future, while the development of the port's jetty will bolster the port's bunkering capabilities in response to anticipated demand.

Currently capable of serving vessels between 65,000 m3 to Q-Max, the modified jetty will also be able to receive vessels sized between 5,000 m3-30,000 m3. The project will cost between €1.5M-2M (US$1.7M-2.3M) and will involve replacing the ancillary fenders and installing an additional gangway.

“Its position at the entrance to the North Sea makes Dunkirk's LNG terminal well-suited to meet Europe's growing demand for LNG bunkering”

A dedicated small-scale jetty to accommodate vessels sized from 3,000 m3 is also planned, said Ms Grégoire-David. Technical issues, such as whether to use hoses or piping and the viability of mobile or other lightweight structures, are currently being considered and it is hoped a firm investment decision for the dedicated jetty will be made by June 2019, explained Ms Grégoire-David.

Dunkerque LNG has joined CMA CGM, Total and MOL in applying for funding from the European Union for the 'Green Loop' project, which the port works at Dunkerque will form a part of.

Loading operations at the Dunkeque LNG facility have been considerably improved with the introduction of a rapid refuelling facility for tankers that significantly reduces stopover time.

The maximum flow rate has been raised to 8,800 m3 per hour from 4,000 m3, halving the amount of time operations will take. Dunkerque LNG general manager Juan Vazquez said: “It is extremely costly to transport LNG from the production site to the point of consumption. Reloading a tanker faster means less down time for the ship and, therefore, major savings for our customers.

With a flow-rate of 4,000 m3 per hour, it took 40 hours to reload a tanker. Now, at 8,800 m3 per hour, it only takes 20 hours.”

Large-scale renovation work was required for the new service, with eight pumps replaced on Tank 1 and Tank 2. An additional compressor was also required, as the increased refuelling speed also raises the amount of gas vapour that must be recovered and treated before being sent into the gas transmission network.

2018 saw Fluxys acquire part of EDF and Total’s stakes in the Dunkerque terminal to become the majority shareholder. Fluxys’ managing director and chief executive Pascal De Buck explained the strategic rationale behind the acquisition, noting that the terminal is “a key asset” for the security of France and Northwest Europe’s gas supply, and that it could be a potential LNG gateway to Germany.

Mr De Buck also saw potential for expanding the terminal’s small-scale offerings: “We fully back the Dunkerque terminal’s efforts to develop its services to load LNG onto trailers and ships, to accommodate the innovative logistic chain for supplying LNG to industry and LNG-fuelled ships and trucks.”

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