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Rethinking Methods for The LNG ‘Transfer Zone’
Trelleborg Oil and Marine
For the LNG industry, attention to detail is imperative at all times. But ask an LNG safety expert where there is most need for focus, and he or she is likely to say the “transfer zone”—where the LNG carrier is loading or unloading. The ship-to-shore or ship-to-ship interface is the point at which activities reach peak intensity.
Small-scale LNG transfer, whether ship-to-shore or offshore ship-to-ship, remains in its relative infancy in terms of the development of infrastructure to meet increasing supply and demand. Yet, as the market has developed over the past decade, so has new thinking around innovative means to transfer LNG; finding solutions that balance new means to improve operability with maintaining the highest safety standards.
To date, small-scale LNG transfer has been utilized to reflect emerging demand threads: ship-to-shore (for regasification, liquefaction and terminal loading and unloading, and gas power generation loading and unloading), and offshore ship-to-ship (one carrier to another and ship to floating storage and regasification units, or FSRU).
The ship-to-shore market, in particular, is spawning new innovation in loading and unloading transfer. Growing interest in the natural gas option from energy customers remote from the grid and with limited volume requirements is spurring interest in small-scale LNG, notably in the form of coastal gas carriers and regional distribution terminals.
As an example of the potential for small-scale LNG ship-to-shore transfer, one need only look at Indonesia. With ambitions to reach electricity coverage of 100 percent by 2019, the country has scheduled to build 32 power plants, providing a total of 35,000 MW of additional power to reach its goal. Supporting infrastructure will include small-scale LNG projects, both floating regasification units (FRU) and floating storage units (FSU), to provide gas to these facilities.
Indonesia exemplifies the exponential growth over the past decade in FSRU, the development of LNG loading and unloading facilities for power generation, and opportunities for small-scale LNG shipping that allow gas power generation in remote locations.
Yet there remain challenges for the ship-to-shore transfer segment in regasification, liquefaction and terminal loading and unloading, as well as gas power generation. The status quo for ship-to-shore transfer solutions in this realm requires high capital investment to create a jetty infrastructure. The traditional thinking has been to build a permanent jetty structure complete with breasting and mooring dolphins, fenders and loading arms, with capex costs as high as $150 million and time-consuming construction. This is at odds with the importance of reliable and quick installation and improved operability that are often key elements in any new regasification, liquefaction, terminal or power plant construction project.
The alternative, now challenging the status quo, is Cryoline hose-in-hose solutions. Requiring only a concrete platform onshore to “host” the hose storage facilities, construction time is only a matter of weeks, compared to a year for jetty construction. In addition to capex savings, hose-in-hose solutions can extend up to 800 m away from shore, are operable in all sea states and typically use only 12- to 16-in. hoses, allowing for LNG flow rate up to 10,000 cu. m. per hour.
Moreover, Cryoline hose solutions can operate effectively for 10 years and without incurring significant decommissioning costs, currently in the millions of dollars for LNG jetties.
As a clean, competitively priced energy source, LNG will only grow in demand. As the global market develops, so will the frequency of multifaceted loading and unloading transfers. To keep pace, managing the intensity of life in the “transfer zone” needs new, flexible, innovative thinking.