Shipping giants debut LNG and hydrogen vessels

Multinational fuel giant Tristar has added a liquefied natural gas (LNG) tanker to its international shipping fleet for the first time, in the same week that Kawasaki Heavy Industries debuted the world's first ship capable of transporting large volumes of liquid hydrogen.

Tristar's vessel was originally built in 2008 and has been retrofitted for its new purpose as an LNG transporter. Image: Tristar

Tristar's vessel, called the Tristar Ruby, has a capacity of 155,000 cubic metres. It has been placed on a long-term charter with BP's shipping arm, which transports LNG between 24 global locations at present and has a further six in the pipeline. BP's latest energy forecast predicts that global energy demand will rise by one-third against current levels by 2040.

The company believes LNG can meet around half of this increase in demand, with renewables accounting for the remainder, if GDP doubles globally within the next two decades. While still a fossil fuel, LNG is widely touted as a lower-carbon alternative to coal for power generation and a potential solution for the decarbonisation of transport and heat - two of the most notoriously hard-to-abate sectors. In the transport space, LNG-powered HGVs have attracted sizeable investment in recent months from the likes of the world's largest brewer Anheuser-Busch InBev (AB InBev). Other corporates using LNG in their HGV fleets include Tesco, Asda, Arla Foods, DHL and UPS.

Hydrogen: The final Frontier? In related news, Japan's Kawasaki Heavy Industries this week unveiled what it claims is the world's first ship capable of transporting liquid hydrogen fuel at scale. Its new SUSIO Frontier vessel is capable of carrying 1,250 cubic metres of the fuel in a single tank.

The fuel will be produced and liquefied in Australia before being shipped to Japan, with trial shipments earmarked to begin in March 2021. While the hydrogen is being touted as a low-carbon solution to Japan's reliance on coal - the nation is hoping to build a large-scale commercial hydrogen supply chain for the energy and transport sectors by 2030 - the vessel itself will run using diesel. Kawasaki Heavy Industries maintains that it is, however, working to decarbonise its shipping fleet in line with the International Maritime Organisation's (IMO) 2050 roadmap.

Its three new-build LNG carriers are equipped with dual-fuel diesel-electric (DFDE) propulsion systems. Low-carbon shipping has become something of a hot sustainability topic in recent months. The sector is currently responsible for around 3% of global CO2e emissions, but researchers for the European Parliament believe this proportion could rise to 17.5% by mid-century.

In response to the issue, Cargill has partnered with Mitsui & Co and Maersk - the latter of which is targeting net-zero global operations by 2050 - to trial and develop fuel-saving technologies aimed at lowering emissions in the shipping sector. Similarly, global non-profit BSR's Clean Cargo Working Group is helping corporates collaborate to reduce emissions per container move. Progress has already been made through moves such as route optimisation and load management, but innovations such as low-carbon fuels and hybrid-electric vessels - combined with AI-enabled optimisation - are predicted to drive further improvements in the coming years.

In the interim as these technologies scale up, the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS), which represents 80% of the global shipping industry, is proposing a £2 levy on every tonne of fuel consumed by ships, raising £500m a year that would be devoted to research and development of zero-carbon vessels. Banks including Citi and ING are also working to funnel more finance towards the creation of a Paris-Agreement-compatible shipping sector.

Sarah George


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