ABB and LNG: Making the ‘floating pipeline’ of the future reality

2014-09-01 - Politics, natural calamities and regulations mean reliance on cleaner-burning natural gas will soar in coming decades.
The 154,000 cubic meter liquified natural gas carrier Provalys has an ABB-supplied electrical propulsion system

Getting gas to markets, especially from remote regions, requires safe, cost-effective transport. Vessels built to safely carry liquified natural gas (LNG) chilled to minus 163 degrees Celsius are playing an increasing role.

ABB is already the largest supplier of electrical propulsion systems, including its industry-standard Azipods for LNG carriers like those plying the Arctic waters between Europe and Asia.

ABB’s solutions for LNG carriers, their icebreaking escorts and a broadening array of other classes of vessels also include support systems and remote diagnostic services to boost safety, efficiency and reliability, ensuring the “floating natural gas pipeline of the future” and the opportunities it promises don't bog down.

“The advanced power solution developed by ABB Marine for LNG carriers is based on the company’s highly reliable portfolio of generators, switchboards, transformers, variable speed propulsion drives and motors,” said Henrique Pestana, the naval architect who heads ABB’s ship design. “These components are combined with advanced protection and power management systems specifically developed for these types of vessels.”

Henrique Pestana, ABB's head of ship design
Rising demand, rising supply – and rising exports

In the last 30 years, global natural gas consumption more than doubled to 113 trillion cubic feet, a trend that will continue. By 2035, liquid natural gas production will account for 16 percent of gas consumption, energy company BP predicts.

The United States will become a major gas exporter, shipping 6 trillion cubic feet come 2040, according to the U.S. Energy Information Agency.

Additionally, Japan’s and Germany’s moves to reduce dependence on nuclear power following 2011’s Fukushima accident, coupled with relationships between countries that can pose challenges for conventional pipelines, suggest LNG vessels’ role in the international gas trade will intensify.

“The trade of natural gas is a very dynamic market that requires flexible transport solutions,” Pestana said. “The shipment of gas by sea is expected to increase dramatically over the next decade.”

Challenges and opportunities

For instance, energy companies seeking to transport LNG via the Arctic's Northern Sea Route between Europe and Asia are turning to ABB to supply Azipod propulsion system-equipped carriers capable of carrying up to 170,000 cubic meters of liquid natural gas.

Outfitted with ABB turbochargers, generators, transformers, drives and three Azipods, these ships of the future will have ice-breaking capabilities allowing them to travel unescorted even through thick ice, reducing costs, speeding delivery times and maintaining safety.

And from its command bridge in Billingstad, Norway, ABB offers remote diagnostic services for LNG carriers to help them stay on course, even when something unpredicted comes up. An ABB engineer is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week via satellite link, should a problem arise.

“Remote diagnostic services from ABB allow for troubleshooting and repair, from miles away,” Pestana. “Alternatively, an ABB service technician can guide the crew to replace a specific component or perform a repair.”

An LNG tanker offloading at a terminal

ABB’s sloshing solutions

As larger LNG carriers proliferate, challenges emerge. For instance, LNG sloshing in tanks during storms could damage them, if improperly managed.

ABB offers OCTOPUS Advisory Suite, a motion-monitoring, forecasting and decision-support package that improves availability and safety for vessels ranging from LNG carriers to cruise ships in weather-sensitive operations.

Ideal for LNG carriers, OCTOPUS includes sloshing prevention.

Ships aren’t just transporting LNG, however, they’re running on it - with help from ABB. For instance, LNG carriers like ABB-supplied GDF Suez ships rely on “boil-off gas” – the portion that evaporates from cargo tanks during transport - to power their electrical propulsion systems, increasing fuel efficiency and cargo capacity.

Emissions limits, fuel efficiency spur interest in LNG as fuel alternative

Other vessels have also turned to LNG fuel and ABB electrical propulsion ahead of new sulfur dioxide emission limits that by 2020 may effectively ban heavy fuel oil in the Baltic Sea, the North Sea, U.S. and Canadian coasts and the Caribbean.

Viking Line's Viking Grace, the world's first large LNG ferry
Last year, ABB supplied electrical propulsion for the world’s first large LNG- fueled passenger ship, the 218-meter ferry Viking Grace. Also aboard is ABB’s EMMA monitoring system, to reduce fuel consumption on its run between Turku, Finland, and Stockholm, Sweden.

The Viking Grace's engines are outfitted with ABB turbochargers, to boost power and efficiency as it whisks 2,500 passengers and 500 cars between ports.

“One of the top priorities at Viking Line is to lower the emissions and fuel consumption,” said Kari Granberg, project manager at Viking Line, Viking Grace’s owner.

Model for marine

LNG will also power a dual-fuel icebreaker to be delivered to the Finnish Transport Agency in 2016.

Finland wanted the world’s first LNG-fueled icebreaker as a model for the marine industry, hiring ABB to supply the electric power plant and Azipod propulsion for a ship to escort vessels through the ice-choked Gulf of Bothnia for the next 50 years.

“The lifetime of an icebreaker is long,” said ABB’s Samuli Hänninen, of ABB Marine’s Propulsion Products. “Building a new one, you need to look at the future – and future regulations.”