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26.05.2017
Estonia
Sector: LNG

LNG Conference 2017 - liquid methane's cool

LNG Conference 2017 - liquid methane's cool © gazeo.com

Some time ago we came across an opinion that methane may become the world's next crude oil and we've embraced it as our own since. The LNG Conference, held in Tallinn, Estonia, on May 17-18, 2017 was dedicated to the possibility of the above happening in the Baltic Sea region.
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Muuga Harbour building© gazeo.comMuuga Harbour is actually in Maardu, not Tallinn, but it's a part of the same port facility

There was a time when the idea of methane fuels (compressed and liquefied natural gas and their equivalents based on renewable rather than fossil sources) replacing LPG over time was debated. It has become clear no such thing is going to happen – while autogas dominates in the passenger car sector, CNG and LNG are best suited for heavy duty applications, including trucks, buses, trains, ships and even aircraft. Considering growing awareness and pressure towards limiting nitrogen oxides, particulate matter and carbon dioxide emissions, potential for growth of methane fuels remains vast, but obviously nothing will just happen on its own and waiting around sitting on one's hands is a way that leads nowhere. If use of CNG and LNG is to become widespread, much work needs to be done and the sooner, the better.

To present to-date achievements and seek solutions for future, the meeting in Tallinn was held. In fact, it wasn't so much in Tallinn as in Port Muuga (day one) and aboard the LNG-powered Megastar shuttle ship (day two), which took a regular sail to Helsinki and back. Maritime connections of the venues are far from coincidental, since the entire LNG Conference revolved precisely around utilising LNG as marine fuel and delivering it via sea, also for subsequent continental use.


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LNG Conference 2017 - opening of day one© gazeo.comThe opening speech was delivered by Kadri Simson, Estonia's minister for economy and infrastructure

Herkko Plit, president and CEO of Baltic Connector, spoke of his company's participation in the construction of the Balticconnector pipeline section between Finland and Estonia (in particular from Kiili to Paldiski). The facility is scheduled to become operational in 2020 and once it does, it is expected to improve Finland's energy security and contribute to creating a common natural gas market in the Baltic region. European Union finances 75% of the project, which includes on-shore pipelines (21 km in Finland and 50 km in Estonia), off-shore pipelines (77 km in each direction), as well as metering stations and compressors on each side. According to the construction company, once the pipeline goes live, local residents, fishermen and tourists will notice no change in the landscape or decrease in quality of living.

As far as EU policy regarding methane fuels is concerned, Monika Zsigiri of European Commission had some facts and figures to present. The authorities in Brussels support a transparent and free LNG market by creating policies and regulations ensuring member states easy access to local gas hubs. On the other hand, however, methane consumption is forecasted to decline beyond 2030. Currently interest in the fuel is on the rise, though – EU countries used by 7% more natural gas in 2016 than the year before. Imports (primarily from Russia and Norway) rose by 12% in the same period. Lithuania boosted imports the most – the volume of gas brought into the country in 2016 exceeded the 2015 figure threefold. More generally, Baltic states and Finland combined used less gas and the Klaipeda terminal operates at just one-third of its full capacity.

Kristoffer Lorentsson, MAN Cryo© gazeo.comThe LNG market may be a young one, but already has its leaders and MAN Cryo is one of them

Typically for such conferences, product presentations were also there in Tallinn. Among companies showcasing their offerings and applied achievements were Chart Ferox, Herose, RINA, Wärtsilä and MAN Cryo, with the latter two being technology providers for Megastar shuttle's drivetrain and fuel storage. The vessel's Wärtsilä engines run on 99% LNG, while the remaining 1% is a pilot dose of diesel fuel, necessary for compression combustion to occur. Kristoffer Lorentsson, MAN Cryo representative, showcased also his company's other successful applications, including a ship recently put into service in the Australia/New Zealand region, which uses road LNG tankers as its fuel tanks! The solution was inspired by virtual lack of bunkering facilities and as such was a challenge, since the tanker had to be specified in such a way that it could conform with both marine and road transport requirements and regulations.

The Megastar at the Port of Tallinn© gazeo.comThe "mega" in Megastar is there for a reason

Since we were aboard the Megastar, we took the opportunity to visit the engine room and have a look at the LNG powerplant and its components. At the core of the system are the aforementioned Wärtsilä engines and LNG tanks (300 m3 each, one per side). The shuttle, put into service at the beginning of 2017 (so practically new, especially considering the kind of service life expectancy ships have), will be presented in more detail in a separate material.

The conference was concluded with a presentation including the overall number of LNG-powered vessels in circulation today and planned for future. Let's put it this way: the list is quite impressive already, but could and should be more extensive by this point. However, the sector is still young and it can be forgiven for not developing at the pace previously projected. We hope next year, at the 2018 LNG Conference, speakers will be able to comment on a significant acceleration of liquid methane adoption.



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Robert Markowski
source: speakers' materials, own information



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