Baltic Sea is one of the busiest seas in the world with a very high frequency of maritime traffic – via regular ferry lines alone, a total of 12 million passengers yearly travel onboard ships between the capitals of Sweden, Finland and Estonia. The Baltic Sea is an important route for maritime trade to 10 different surrounding countries, and the number and size of ships sailing in the waterway continues to increase in the years to come.
At the same time, the Baltic Sea is connected to the world oceans through very narrow Danish straits, a factor that significantly hinders the water exchange thus making the Baltic a unique ecosystem. Therefore also constant effort is made by both public and regulatory authorities as well as business enterprises operating in the maritime sector to find feasible means that cater the need for economic development while establishing the best protection measures for the sea’s valued ecosystem.
Throughout the world, industries have looked towards liquefied natural gas (LNG) as a potential substitution to fossil fuel such as Heavy Fuel Oil. Especially for maritime industry, LNG is an excellent fuel as regards to its environmental properties and thus help to meet the strict environmental regulations set in force to protect the Baltic Sea ecosystem, as well as offering the shipping companies significant efficiency gains.
Already in 2013, the first LNG-powered passenger ferry was commissioned on the Baltic Sea, between Stockholm and Turku. With a maiden journey of Tallink Group’s new LNG-powered vessel Megastar in early 2017, we saw the dawn of a new era also in marine traffic between Helsinki and Tallinn. Commissioning of a ferry that produces 25% less carbon dioxide, 85% less nitrogen compounds and practically no sulphuric compounds or soot particles on the route with heaviest traffic in the world between capitals of two countries.
For ship-owners, LNG is not only attractive due to its environmental impact, but also due to accompanying indirect benefits onboard. The use of LNG as fuel onboard is keeping the engines clean and thus ships’ wear-down should be much less than on engines running on diesel or heavy fuel. If the vessels use dual-powered engines, fuel preparation for feeding the engines is kept at minimum. This again reduces dramatically the need for onboard cleaning, as the LNG is very clean.
We believe that due to both environmental aspects as well as fuel efficiency LNG as ship fuel has great potential both in Baltic sea as well as in maritime operations elsewhere.
The value chain of using LNG as marine fuel requires not only investments by the shipping companies in building LNG-powered vessels or substituting previous generation power engines to new generation and more environmentally friendly. Equally vital is the whole supporting infrastructure – from supplier of fuel to the technical secure setup of bunkering and this requires smooth cooperation amongst all parties.
Bunkering and safety
Currently, the Port of Tallinn has in cooperation with the Baltic Sea leading shipping company Tallink and fuel supplier Eesti Gaas set up the necessary infrastructure and safety procedures to offer Tallink’s new LNG-powered M/S Megastar the solution of truck-to-ship bunkering, where trucks are delivering LNG by pumps installed in trailers. One has to acknowledge, that while one of the cleanest industrial fuels available at the moment, delivering LNG from trucks into vessel’s 300m3 cryogenic tanks requires extreme caution.
In principle, bunkering of LNG is similar to that of the current mainstream marine fuel, i.e. Heavy Fuel Oil. However, a wholly new procedure had to be established and indispensable parts of this process are rather expensive and complex precaution procedures and equipment, which all needed smooth cooperation by the port authority, fuel supplier and vessel operator. There are exhaustive check-lists for safe bunkering, marked safety zones in pumping area as well as fully safeguarded bunkering zone. All this in order to ensure maximum safety.
In the shipping industry both in Baltic Sea as well as elsewhere, LNG is looked at as a viable alternative to diesel or heavy fuel oil.
The demand for environmentally friendly transport services is increasing also from the freight transportation customers. Growing supply of gas-fueled technology, environmental aspects related to the Baltic Sea as well as the fuel efficiency gained make liquefied natural gas potentially the main fuel used on vessels already in not too distant future.
The vision of LNG as a future fuel for shipping industry has already attracted additional longer term interest on the southern shores of the Gulf of Finland. Port of Tallinn has approved the creation of onshore LNG bunkering terminal at the biggest Estonian cargo port in Muuga, just in the outskirts of Tallinn. Relevant state and local authorities have approved the terminal’s EIA report and the spatial plan for regional LNG terminal to be developed by one of Europe’s leading operators Vopak has been adopted by local municipality.
In the first stage, Muuga Harbour will have a terminal which allows the reception, storage and distribution of LNG aimed mainly for bunkering ships or trucks. In perspective second stage, Muuga could act as a regional terminal serving the needs of the whole Baltic sea region and serving the needs of maritime traffic in the Gulf of Finland.
The Port of Tallinn is looking forward to providing good access to environmentally-friendly energy source in maritime industry. Together with partners from the supply industry as well as equipment and system manufacturers, we are well positioned into becoming a hub welcoming all ship-owners sailing on Gulf of Finland, who are using LNG as a fuel.