​On any given day more than 50,000 merchant ships navigate the world’s oceans and seas. Of these, approximately 550 haul LNG. As we’ve started to witness, these vessels are starting to climb aboard the natural gas transition to power their tankers but not without a shove in that direction. In the last three years the number of commercial and cruise ships powered by LNG has grown from 118 to more than 143, with 270 new ships on order. The conversion from combustion engines that traditionally burned heavy fuel oil to clean natural gas has been driven by several factors, with the largest being the International Maritime Organization (IMO) mandate in January that placed a hardline cap on heavy fuel sulfur from 3.5% to 0.5%.

With the IMO rule in effect, shipbuilders from South Korea to Greece now are building or retrofitting Very Large Crude Carriers (VLCCs) and Suezmax LNG tankers that are powered by the very fuel they ship. As a point of reference, both VLCCs and Suezmaxes (so named as they are the largest ships that can pass through the Suez Canal), are considered the two main maritime workhorses and the primary vessels used to transport LNG. VLCCs burn a whopping 55 tons of bunker fuel a day and, until recently, have been among the last marine vessels to jump aboard the LNG power trend.

But that seems to be changing.

  • Chinese state-run Cosco Shipping Energy Transportation in January announced upgrading a previously ordered VLCC to use LNG as its primary fuel.
  • Norwegian energy giant Equinor now has reported testing two newbuild LNG-powered shuttle tankers as part of a major renewal of the company’s fleet of more than 150 ships. The Eagle Blane and Rainbow Spirit each come equipped with an oil vapor recovery plant to collect liquefied VOCs from the cargo for reuse as fuel. Equinor says it will add 14 new ships to its fleet this year.
  • Finland-based Wartsila and its marine technology unit work with global shippers and shipbuilders to “future proof” marine vessels with fuel flexibility to burn any clean fuel that might become available in the future, including LPG, biodiesel, methanol and VOCs. Wartsila believes the transition to clean fuels will be easiest, fastest, and most cost effective for vessels fueled by LNG.

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