LNG: Fuel of the future

Interview with Werner Repenning, director of Strategic Company Development at Niedersachsen Ports GmbH & Co. KG

Werner Repenning, copyright Niedersachsen PortsMr. Repenning, LNG (Liquefied Natural Gas) is considered the fuel of the future. What makes it more favourable than conventional fuel?

The tightened emission-limits for sulphur oxides in SECA zones apply from 1 January 2015. They have been reduced from 1.0 down to 0.1 percent. Now, ship-owners basically have three options: they can use the considerably more expensive Marine Gas Oil (MGO) or retrofit a so called ‘scrubber’, which cleans the emissions. Thus, heavy fuel can still be used. The third option is to use alternative and environmentally friendly ship propulsion. These alternatives include gas engines as well as methanol based engines.

The use of liquefied natural gas can achieve significant emission reductions of all essential air pollutants, such as sulphur oxides, nitrogen, carbon dioxides and particulate matter. Present barriers are the higher investment costs and a possible loss of cargo holding space, since LNG tanks are bigger in size because of their special isolation and cylindrical design. Nevertheless, the long-term advantages of LNG propulsion will prevail, because gas-powered ship engines can also meet the requirements of expected intensifications of emission values in the future. Beyond that, the purchase price for LNG is below the price for MGO. The American gas industry is planning to intensify the LNG production for the global market, which guarantees another decrease of the LNG price in the long run. These are substantial factors for the use of LNG in the shipping industry.

At the end of April, an LNG workshop was held in Cuxhaven with the result that an LNG bunker station in Cuxhaven would not be profitable. However, NPorts showed great interest in creating an LNG bunker possibility. How is this interest motivated?

We, as a port infrastructure operator, realise more and more that consumers as well as producers aim for sustainability in produced goods and demand a logistics supply chain that is in compliance with the values of climate and environmental protection. This affects the port industry as well as the ship owners, which have to react to the shipper’s demands.

Research regarding the development of freight transport shows, that cargo handling in the German ports will increase from 269 million tons in 2010 up to 468 million tons by 2030. This result is also based on the considerable growth of the shipping traffic and ship related emissions. Already next year, the allowed values for sulphur oxides will be once more reduced for new vessels, also based on the MARPOL regulations. These measures create a legal and political framework that guarantees eco-friendly and sustainable ship traffic. LNG is the answer for meeting the legal and socio-political shipping requirements. It is our aim to provide our port industries with the best conditions to act customer-friendly and solution-oriented. We therefore support this new technology emphatically. This summer, we will be operating two LNG ferries at our ports in Cuxhaven and Emden, which intensifies our interest in developing a possibility to bunker LNG cost-efficiently and independently of fuel tank trucks. A permanent bunker station in Cuxhaven does not have to be the solution. A bunker barge supplying the ports of the Lower Elbe would be a more thinkable and realisable way.

Where do you see Germany as an LNG user compared to the international neighbours?

Like every other country, Germany is only at the beginning stage of using LNG as a ship fuel. Only the Norwegians and Swedes are one step ahead, owning several LNG powered vessels. However, the Dutch are already working on infrastructures supporting LNG supply, also because 250 trucks are powered with LNG in the Netherlands. In Germany, the Lower Saxon ship owners AG Ems and Cassen Eils are pioneers in the use of LNG as a ship fuel by launching two LNG powered ferries in the next two months. The ports in Brunsbüttel, Hamburg and Bremerhaven are also planning to install a shore based LNG bunker station.


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