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Alternative fuels: what a difference a year makes

A big tick for LNG powered cruise ships
Last year at Seatrade Cruise Global, the talk was all about liquefied natural gas-powered cruise ships and ‘chickens and eggs’ - whether a wider pool of cruise brands would start to choose LNG for newbuilds in the absence of infrastructure and supply chain.

Fast forward a year and speakers at the 2018 Alternative Fuels panel collectively agreed the industry had now past the ‘tipping point’ for LNG to fuel cruise ships.

Statistics presented by Aziz Bamak, gm GTT North America, a producer of gas containment systems, show 18 cruise vessels under construction would be powered by LNG.

The panel also looked beyond LNG - with fuel cells powered by hydrogen, most likely initially provided through methanol, also under discussion.

Bamak said, ‘the cruise industry has embraced LNG. Our mission is to accompany the transition.’

Positive sentiment was reinforced by Carnival Corp. & plc's svp maritime affairs Tom Strang, who told the packed theatre: ‘LNG beats all other alternatives hands down.’

Lloyds Register’s George Legg, lead electromechanical specialist, Americas, explained: ‘From an engineering point of view, we don’t need to reinvent the wheel,’ and noted that the technologies are well proven.

Another view came from RINA’s evp marine, Paolo Moretti, who asserted that 'from the point of view of safety, [LNG's] been proven.'

But there are still challenges on the LNG front. Legg identified several, saying that infrastructure is still a problem, referring to what he called ‘the hazardous area envelope,’ where interactions with ports need to be fine-tuned.

Strang pointed out that ‘making sure the fuel is where it needs to be is still a big challenge.’

He was quick to mention that Carnival would be solving the problem, in part, through a new LNG bunker barge to be constructed to serve ports in the Caribbean, saying ‘We need different ways of providing 3,000 cubic meters of fuel at one time.’

He also identified training as another challenge, and spoke of Carnival’s extensive work in creating procedures and training of personnel, including those not directly involved in fueling.

Regulatory regimes are much more aligned, with entry into force of the IGF Code a year ago, but speaker John Grubic, gm downstream LNG Americas for Shell (which will be supplying Carnival and others), noted attention must still be paid to harmonizing regulation at the local levels.

Moretti pointed out that new techniques are required for inspections, where vessels are gas fuelled.

There was considerable discussion about the future as LNG is still a fossil fuel, and, as such, will still contribute to greenhouse gas emissions.

Panelist Joseph Pratt, a fuel cell proponent with Golden Gate Zero Emission Marine, pointed out that robust solutions must be found when looking at maritime industry carbon reductions out to the year 2055 and believes ‘LNG is not future-proof.'

Grubic emphasized the oil giant was ‘looking carefully at hydrogen’ which would be consumed in fuel cells but stressed, ‘the step to hydrogen is a big step’ in the absence of regulatory and pricing dictates for carbon dioxide.

He summed up: ‘The parameters to see other fuels take off are not there yet … and the environmental case for LNG is still really strong.’

Progress is coming, with Moretti explaining RINA has already developed rules for classing methanol aboard vessels, and that the IMO would soon be issuing guidance on the use of methanol as a fuel.