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Container Shipping & Trade

Container Shipping & Trade

Box ship biofuel and LNG retrofit breakthrough

Tue 21 May 2019 by Rebecca Moore

Box ship biofuel and LNG retrofit breakthrough
Hapag-Lloyd's Sajir represents an important test case for retrofits on big vessels

Biofuel, LNG retrofits and scrubbers feature in some of the latest projects and initiatives within the container ship sector

Hamburg-based liner company Hapag-Lloyd’s 15,000-TEU vessel Sajir will become the biggest container ship so far to retrofit dual-fuel LNG engines.

The company has signed a contract with Hudong Zhonghua Shipbuilding to carry out the conversion at Huarun Dadong Dockyard in Shanghai. The vessel’s 54.9-MW MAN B&W 9S90MEC10 engine will be converted to MAN Energy Solutions’ dual-fuel ME-GI engine concept. Hapag-Lloyd plans to primarily use LNG, with low-sulphur fuel oil as a backup option.

“By carrying out this unprecedented pilot, we hope to learn for the future and to pave the way for large ships to be retrofitted to use this alternative fuel,” says Hapag-Lloyd managing director fleet management Richard von Berlepsch.

Sajir is one of 17 container ships built as ‘LNG ready’ by United Arab Shipping Co before it was acquired by Hapag-Lloyd. Hapag-Lloyd first revealed its plan to convert one of the LNG-ready vessels when it detailed its compliance strategy for the 2020 sulphur cap last year.

Highly efficient

Hapag-Lloyd's first LNG retrofit candidate will feature a 6,700-m3 gas fuel tank, bunkering twice per round trip. The smaller tank size compared to the 18,600-m3 tanks on CMA CGM's large container ships points to greater certainty about bunkering in Asia, as well as space constraints on Sajir, which was designed LNG-ready six years ago.

The ship is already highly efficient, running at -60% to the EEDI reference line thanks to modern efficiency features, including waste heat recovery. Another feature likely to remain is the power take-off (PTO). A recent case study by MAN Energy Solutions highlights how a PTO can optimise energy efficiency by generating electricity from the main engine. Auxiliaries will also be dual-fuel, the line has confirmed.

After conversion, the 54.9-MW MAN B&W 9S90MEC10 will earn the -GI suffix that denotes MAN Energy Solutions' high-pressure, diesel cycle, dual-fuel engines.

A successful retrofit for a vessel of Sajir’s size would represent a significant milestone for advancing LNG as a marine fuel. The high cost of retrofitting has been seen as a barrier to uptake; following the Sajir contract, MAN believes conversions are becoming viable for more vessels and container ships built within the past five years are now seen as good candidates.

MAN head of sales, retrofit projects Klaus Rasmussen notes the company has refined its conversion strategies as the number of projects has grown. The age range for suitable candidates is not limited by the need for payback time, he explains, but vessels must have modern ME-C engines. These feature the electronic controls needed to govern fuel injection and exhaust valve timings on gas engines.

Mr Rasmussen acknowledges that Hapag-Lloyd has paid a higher cost for works on Sajir due to it being the first of its kind. Any further retrofits would be cheaper as a result of this work, he says. Hapag-Lloyd has put the cost of LNG conversions at US$25M-30M.

Further conversions would also offer economies of scale on LNG fuel. The membrane tank, enough for one voyage between Europe and Asia, is the most significant element of the 90-day retrofit. The engine conversion could be completed in around five weeks; the remaining two months will be devoted to installing the tank and the complicated steelwork supporting it.

At 368 m in length and weighing 149,400 dwt, Sajir is the biggest ship ever to be converted for dual-fuel operation. Along with the big new container ships ordered by CMA CGM and Eastern Pacific Shipping, they showcase how improving dual-fuel technology – and particularly the prospect of dramatic fuel cost savings – is helping to bring LNG fuel to the attention of owners of ever-bigger vessels.

Biofuel breakthroughs

And there is another alternative fuel that is poised to break into container shipping. Both CMA CGM and Maersk are involved in biofuel projects that introduce this fuel to the container shipping industry.

IKEA Transport & Logistics Services, CMA CGM, the GoodShipping Program and the Port of Rotterdam have refuelled CMA CGM White Shark with sustainable marine biofuel oil.

The test saw the companies work together in a first-of-its-kind partnership for the shipping industry when 5,095-TEU CMA CGM White Shark was refuelled with biofuel oil on 23 March at the Port of Rotterdam.

The sustainable marine biofuel oil was developed by GoodFuels, a leading provider of sustainable marine biofuels to the global commercial shipping fleet, after undergoing three years of intensive testing with marine engine manufacturers. The second-generation biofuel oil is derived from forest residues and waste cooking oil products and is expected to deliver 80-90% well-to-propeller CO2 reduction versus fossil fuel equivalents, and virtually eliminates sulphur oxide emissions. The company said there are no requirements for engine modifications.

The trial was facilitated by the GoodShipping Program, a sustainable initiative dedicated to decarbonising ocean freight. 

Elsewhere, Maersk has joined forces with the Dutch Sustainable Growth Coalition (DSGC) to carry out a pilot test using second-generation biofuel on one of its Tripe-E box ships on a scale never seen before.

DSGC members FrieslandCampina, Heineken, Philips, DSM, Shell and Unilever are collaborating with Maersk to carry out a pilot using up to 20% sustainable second-generation biofuels on a large triple-E ocean vessel. This will sail from Rotterdam to Shanghai and back on biofuel blends alone – a world’s first at this scale, saving 1.5M kg of CO2 and 20,000 kg of sulphur.

The DSGC members, many of which are Maersk's customers, played a critical role initiating and sponsoring the pilot. Shell acted as the fuel supplier for the pilot, and Maersk operating partner. 

AP Moller-Maersk chief operating officer Søren Toft commented “To reach our net zero CO2 target by 2050, in the next 10 years we need big breakthroughs. Maersk cannot do this alone. That is why this collaboration with DSGC and its members is such an important step in identifying and bringing low carbon solutions to life. It laid the foundation for how cross-industry partners can work together to take steps towards a more sustainable future. We welcome others to join in our efforts, as this journey is just beginning.” 

The biofuel used in this pilot is a second-generation biofuel produced from waste sources, in this case used cooking oil. Second-generation biofuel means the biofuel comes from waste products including used cooking oil, forest residues, wood chip waste etc. This biofuel is ISCC-certified, meaning the whole chain is third-party certified. The benefit of biofuel is that it can replace or be blended with conventional fuels without large technical adaptations to the engines.

Scrubber box ship boom

The container operator market has been a thriving one for scrubbers. As of May 2019, container ships are the second-largest maritime sector for the number of ships with scrubbers installed, in operation and on order, with a total of 588. The leading sector is bulk carriers, with 1,129.

Pacific Green Marine Technologies (PGMT) business development support manager Devon Smith says “PGMT has had a very good year in terms of sales. We are in constant dialogue with potential clients and fully expect an increase in orders, both this year and in subsequent years.”

Both retrofits and newbuild orders are growing within the sector as the 2020 low sulphur cap deadline approaches. Mr Smith says “Retrofit orders continue to be strong, and we expect there to continue to be a very robust market for them in the coming months and years. Container ships tend to be large consumers of fuel, and therefore prime candidates for scrubbers as they can potentially offer a very attractive return on investment. Further, the newbuild market for scrubbers is growing rapidly and we expect the market to remain strong for the foreseeable future.”

PGMT’s solution incorporates its patented TurboheadTM technology, which generates an induced frothing process to ensure extremely efficient scrubbing of the exhaust gases. PGMT’s ENVI-Marine scrubbing systems offer a solution to turbulent wet scrubbing that is “more efficient, smaller and more cost effective to build and operate”, says Mr Smith. PGMT also offers a bespoke scrubbing solution, using the vessel’s parameters and operating profiles to model the appropriate scrubber, ensuring clients have a scrubber that suits their needs, without paying for excess scrubbing capacity.

One issue that container ship operators need to be aware of is potential bottlenecks and delays as liners act quickly to meet the 2020 deadline. Mr Smith comments “Industry capacity and production bottlenecks are always an important issue to focus on.”  However, he illustrates how manufacturers are trying to overcome this challenge. “Due in part to PGMT’s joint venture with PowerChina, we are pleased to offer among the largest capacity in the industry and are confident in our ability to deliver large numbers of scrubbers at cost-effective prices.”

PGMT has a joint venture with Chinese Government-owned PowerChina, China’s largest power industry engineering, procurement and construction company. Mr Smith says this venture is “uniquely positioning PGMT in the marine emissions market and providing the benefit of highly efficient products coupled with the capacity to produce them cost-effectively worldwide”.

Elsewhere, CR Ocean Engineering (CROE) president and chief operating officer Nicholas Confuorto says that the market in the first quarter of 2019 has slowed down “considerably” from 2018 but that this was expected because most companies that wanted scrubbers by the end of 2019 (to meet the 2020 low sulphur directive) purchased these by the end of 2018. “We still see companies that purchasing systems but for 2020,” adds Mr Confuorto.

“The operators buying now were the ones on the fence in 2018 but because they now see other companies installing scrubbers, they say maybe we should do it and even though they will miss the benefit of the first few months of 2020, they will make most of next year with the scrubber. The ones not purchasing at all justify their decision thinking that maybe the fuel prices will not be so high and maybe IMO may delay things again.  However, IMO again confirmed that they will not change the implementation date”

But Mr Confuorto warns “They will be pushed into a decision by the end of this year because when the price of fuel goes up, they will realize that they may have made a mistake and will rush to get scrubbers as early as possible.  We believe that the price differential [between diesel and low sulphur oil] will be more than US$300, and so it is a fantastic opportunity to save money.”

The issue of open loop scrubbers being banned in port has also been overplayed says Mr Confuorto. “It was a big story at the end of last year but there is no proof anything is wrong and studies show that water coming out of the loop has no harmful effect on sea life. Based on that many more operators will be coming out for open loop by the end of year and this issue about will just go away. We will see every country allowing open loop, which makes more sense as it operates with less equipment and at lower cost [than closed loop].”

CROE is currently fitting scrubbers for four container ship operators.



Snapshot CV: Nicholas Confuorto (CROE)

Nicholas Confuorto is the president and chief operations officer for CR Ocean Engineering. He is also a founding member and the chairman of the Exhaust Gas Cleaning Systems Association. Since receiving his engineering degree from Columbia University in 1976, Mr Confuorto has focused his career in the field of environmental controls and has held high-level positions at some of the most respected corporate names in the global air pollution controls industry.

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