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Fuel of the future for shortsea shipping? The vision of ECSA

Date: 14/02/2011

The volatile oil market, doubts about the politics of the oil supply and the use of environmentally friendly energy have gathered momentum initiatives regarding the use of LNG as energy source in shipping.

LNG is clearly environmentally friendly. It produces no sulphur (SOx) and scores well in terms of Nitrogen Oxide (NOx minus 90%)) and particulate matter (almost nil). The use of LNG also results in a reduction of more than 20% CO2.

The European Community Shipowners Association (ECSA) and the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA) have organized two workshops to investigate the possible use of LNG in shortsea and resolve outstanding problems. The focus is on shortsea as the quantity of LNG that can be stored as bunkers on ships is quite limited to date. This makes the first problem clear: the possibilities for bunkering of shortsea shipping in Europe. Actually it should be possible to bunker in every European port of call, but there is still a lot of work to do.

The potential for LNG bunkering are non-existent or marginal. Infrastructure must be built and safety standards for bunkering should be developed, preferably internationally. ECSA and the European ports organisation ESPO made together with EMSA an analysis of the current situation as a basis for further action. An interesting feature that was brought forward within the last ECSA / EMSA workshop in September 2010 was bunkering by a small tanker. This will be discussed further.

Sailing with LNG is technically possible. Wärtsilä has engines that can run on both oil and LNG. Rolls-Royce has engines that only can use LNG. Both types are already in use. Retrofitting of existing engines for LNG is possible but obviously quite expensive. Another question mark is the price of LNG. This was so far strongly related to the price of oil on world markets. Very recently it looks that there is a tendency of decoupling the price of LNG and oil.

The final cost of the use of LNG in shortsea is presently unclear. The liner services that are testing LNG are all somehow subsidized. The European Commission said during the last workshop that support through Marco Polo and TEN-T should be possible. During the same workshop it was also clear that initiatives to use LNG as fuel for shortsea are clearly "matured". Many things are happening in different areas of operation, no doubt a positive development.

These initiatives suggest that there is no doubt a future role for the use of LNG as fuel for shortsea shipping. The remaining issues mainly related to bunkering and safety and the technical and cost elements make it clear that the widespread use of LNG in shortsea has still a long way to go.

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