The Huge Ships for the Booming LNG Trade

Designs, Technologies, and Challenges for liquefied natural gas carriers.

By MC01, a frequent commenter on WOLF STREET:

The export of Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) has surged by 61% in ten years, from 160 million metric tons in 2007 to 258 million metric tons in 2016 (chart via IGU):

LNG is a mixture of natural gases – chiefly methane with some mixture of ethane – that has been processed and converted into liquid form through cooling to -162°C for the ease of transport: LNG takes up less than 1/500th space than gas in its original form. The treatment process natural gas undergoes before being liquefied also makes it “cleaner” to burn by eliminating pollutants such as mercury and sulfur hydroxide.

LNG was first industrially produced in the US, with the first liquefaction plants becoming operative in 1940 and production ramping up due to WWII. After a catastrophic explosion in Cleveland in 1944, industrial LNG production was abandoned. But theoretical and experimental work continued as LNG offered a potentially attractive way to transport natural gas over long distances by rail or ship where pipelines were not available.

In 1959, the first LNG carrier, a converted diesel-powered WWII-vintage Type C1M cargo, the Methane Pioneer, sailed from a Conoco processing plant in Louisiana to the South Eastern Gas Board (now part of British Gas) facilities in Canvey Island, UK. Between 1959 and 1963, a few more vessels were converted and used on the Louisiana-Great Britain route. But Shell found enormous quantities of natural gas off the Groningen coast (Holland), prompting the boom in North Sea drilling and hence killing the demand for more expensive LNG from the Americas.

At about the same time Gaz de France started to investigate the potential of LNG for the Algerian natural-gas trade, but a combination of weak demand in France and the discovery of the Lacq gas fields (Nouvelle Aquitaine Department) ensured not much large scale work was done until the early 1970s. What was done, however, came in handy at a later date.

LNG carriers had a renaissance in the 1970s, when US energy companies found a new market for natural gas in Japan. An LNG terminal was set up on the Cook Inlet in Alaska, and the Maritime Administration (MARAD) incentivized the building of specialized LNG carriers in US shipyards under the Jones Act.

However two carriers, the MV Artic Tokyo and the MV Polar Alaska, were built in Scandinavia to take advantage of a new onboard LNG storage system developed by Moss Maritime of Norway.

LNG carriers had previously used tanks with oblong shapes, installed inside the cargo holds together with ancillary equipment, and covered with thick layers of insulation. These tanks were relatively cheap to manufacture and easy to install in existing cargo holds, but also prone to deformation and, in extreme cases, cracking during the extreme cooling and heating cycles these tanks regularly experience.

By contrast, the Moss tank is in a spherical shape with a structural brace around its diameter (“equatorial ring”), which is in turn connected to a large “skirt” which transfers the weight off the tank to the ship structure. This makes it extremely durable and resistant to shocks. As the Moss tank is designed to contract and expand during cooling and heating cycles, all the piping comes in from the top and is connected to the ship through bellows.

Over the years, Moss Maritime improved insulation efficiency and added features such LNG sprayers to keep tank walls cooler and help reduce the phenomenon known as boiloff (more in a moment). This tank design dominated LNG carriers in the 1980s and 1990s (image via Moss Maritime):

However Moss tanks have a massive drawback for ship designers: they do not make good use of hull space. This means there’s a lot of empty space in the ship, which limited carrying capacity.

In 2014, IHI of Japan introduced the prismatic tank, the culmination of a decade of studies and trials. It makes better use of hull space than the Moss tank, has higher structural strength, is more resistant to temperature shocks, and reduces a phenomenon called “sloshing”: In rough weather, the thousands of metric tons of LNG inside the tank may “slosh around,” putting enormous strain on the tank’s wall. This led to catastrophic accidents and is an ever-present danger, especially when sailing through the Indian Ocean in monsoon season.

The downside of the prismatic tank is the extremely high cost. It’s finding a niche in Floating Production Storage and Offloading (FPSO), the vast vessels used to process natural gas produced either by themselves or nearby platforms and store it until it can be offloaded. But shipowners are finding the high cost hard to stomach for ordinary LNG carriers.

At about the same time that US energy companies were starting to bring Alaskan LNG to Japan, Gaz de France was finishing building the state-of-the-art regasification terminal of Fos-Tonkin, near Marseille, which entered service in 1972. While the nationalization of foreign energy assets in Algeria had slowed the process, natural gas was rapidly becoming big business in Europe and the small-scale work carried out from the late 1950s onward was now coming in handy.

Among this work was a design of onboard LNG storage called the membrane tank. Instead of having solid tanks made of thick stainless steel or aluminum, these tanks are made of a “membrane” composed of alternating metal and insulating layers.

The two most used designs today have a metal layer in direct contact with the LNG, an insulating layer, a thicker metal layer providing structural strength, and one final insulating layer. The metals used are either common SAE 304 stainless steel or Invar, a nickel-iron alloy with an extremely low coefficient of temperature expansion.

Insulation has become steadily more sophisticated and now chiefly consists of tightly packed plywood boxes filled with perlite. The insulation is continuously flushed with nitrogen, both to improve thermal insulation and to provide an inert atmosphere around the tank. The nitrogen is constantly monitored by sensors to detect NG levels consistent with a leak.

The two French companies behind the membrane tank – Gaz Transport and Technigaz – were merged in 1994 and the resulting concern was renamed GTT.

Membrane tanks have come of age with the modern ultra-large LNG carriers, relegating the Moss tank to either smaller vessels or FPSOs. This image shows an LNG carrier with a membrane tank (image via IGU):

Qatargas, the largest LNG company in the world and owner of a large fleet of LNG carriers, has brought a lot of changes to the industry. Among them:

The sheer size of the ships. The Q-Flex class, which entered service in 2007, has a capacity of 210,000 cubic meters, or over 50% more the largest LNG carriers previously built. The Q-Max class, which entered service in 2008, has a capacity of 266,000 cubic meters. At a length 345 meters (1,132 feet) and a beam of 53.8 meters (176.5 feet), Q-Max ships, as the name implies, are the largest ships that can moor at the existing enormous LNG terminals in Qatar.

Large orders. Qatargas ordered 14 Q-Max and 31 Q-Flex so far. The large orders have completely shifted the shipbuilding balance in favor of the Big Three of Korea: Daewoo, Hyundai, and Samsung. Qatargas, which owns the ship designs, has spread orders evenly among the three. Japanese shipyards such as Imabari and Japan Marine United have come to dominate the market for smaller LNG carriers and FPSO’s. This has resulted in the paradoxical situation that, as the LNG trade continues to grow, the old European shipyards which once dominated this trade are seeing orders for FPSO and LNG carriers shrink.

Onboard reliquefaction. Both the Q-Flex and Q-Max come with a reliquefaction plant as standard equipment. This was previously a rare sight on LNG carriers due to cost and complexity. I’ll explain the implications shortly.

The use of slow speed two stroke diesels as main engines instead of the steam turbines widely used on LNG carriers (I discussed those giant engines here).

The last two points are closely connected.

Even if insolation design and construction of onboard LNG tanks have advanced by leaps and bounds since the late 1950s, on any trip some of the LNG in the tanks will boil and turn back into gas. Modern LNG carriers will see anything between 0.1% and 0.25% of the cargo boil every day, a loss affected by environmental conditions and insulation degradation.

The Methane Pioneer merely vented this boiled gas once tank pressure reached a certain level. But designers and shipowners were already working on ways to put this gas to good use – to help run the ship: replacing the diesel engine of the Methane Pioneer with steam turbines solved the fuel problem as the boilers used to feed steam to the turbines can run on pretty much any fuel.

While designing the piping proved tricky at first (among other problems, the “boiled” gas is still well below 0°C and needs to be heated to about 20°C before being fed to the boilers), the whole system has proven very reliable over the decades. The turbines are mature technology with excellent reliability and low maintenance costs, both superior to diesels.

However there are some drawbacks.

First: Steam turbines run at thousands of RPM, while the propellers used by merchant vessels of larger sizes are most efficient below 300 rpm. This means costly reduction gear to drive the propellers. While turbo-electric drives (turbines drive generators that feed power to electric motors that drive the propellers) have long been used as part of maritime propulsion plants and found to be both reliable and efficient, they have failed to take hold outside of warships and fast cruise ships due to cost and complexity.

Second: Steam turbines require larger crews than diesels and that. Outside of nuclear-powered warships and LNG carriers, they are becoming rare in maritime applications, meaning trained crews are becoming harder and harder to come by.

Third: Steam turbines are slightly less thermally efficient than two stroke diesels. While this difference is small in modern designs (2-3%), in a world of cutthroat competition and paper-thin margins it matters.

The idea of running two stroke diesels on an LNG/bunker mixture (I discussed bunker fuel here) is actually nothing new: in 1973 the MV Venator, an LNG carrier built for the Alaska-Japan trade, was powered by two dual-fuel six cylinder two stroke diesels designed and built by Sulzer of Switzerland (Wärtsilä of Finland bought Sulzer’s diesel division in 1996, inheriting this technology). The dual-fuel diesel technology has since been developed for a variety of applications by several engine manufacturers but it’s still not fully exploited and there’s still room for cost-effective improvements. Among the manufacturers are Hyundai Heavy Industries and  Doosan of Korea, Daimler and MAN of Germany, and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and Diesel United of Japan.

On top of this, the Q-Flex and Q-Max LNG carriers’ onboard reliquefaction plants make it possible to re-cool the gas that boils off to -162°C and either pumped it back into the tanks directly or spray it onto the tank walls to improve cooling. This means that the incentives to use LNG as fuel are much reduced.

It also means Nakilat, the Qatargas subsidiary which runs their LNG carriers, has to carefully consider fuel costs before instructing ship crews on how to run the ship engines: the modern MAN two strokes used in the Q-Flex and Q-Max LNG carriers can easily switch between several types of fuel burning cycles during navigation by a single operator. By MC01, a frequent commenter on WOLF STREET

Three companies dominate the market for these huge “low-speed” two-stroke diesel engines. Read…  The Engines of the Largest Container Ships in the World, and Challenges their Manufacturers Face  
 

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  51 comments for “The Huge Ships for the Booming LNG Trade

  1. Fergus
    Jun 17, 2018 at 7:51 pm

    Really enlightening.

    • Jim Kenrs
      Jun 18, 2018 at 8:07 pm

      Not really. Didn’t mention at all that the 2-stroke engines are filthy dirty.

  2. raxadian
    Jun 17, 2018 at 8:48 pm

    And then energy becomes cheaper in a few years and these guys will be operating at a loss.

    • zoomev
      Jun 18, 2018 at 11:25 am

      …and then global warming goes asymptotic in a positive feedback loop far worse than all predictions, humanity dies off and in a few epochs the environment self corrects minus homo sapiens, problem solved.

      • zoomev
        Jun 18, 2018 at 11:26 am

        and excellent as always Wolf.

      • d
        Jun 22, 2018 at 4:31 am

  3. Alan
    Jun 17, 2018 at 9:19 pm

    All it would take to see an explosion of unbelievable energetic release is one small shoulder mounted missile in the hands of some miscreant.

    • baldski
      Jun 18, 2018 at 4:53 pm

      I do not know the penetration capabilities of shoulder mounted missiles but the cargo tanks are surrounded by ballast tanks (essentially double hulled vessels). So, you would have to penetrate the two walls of the ballast tank before you hit the cargo.

      Secondly, you cannot detonate LNG as proven in tests done at China Lake, California.

    • unit472
      Jun 18, 2018 at 6:54 pm

      As I recall the lower explosive level of natural gas is 4.5% and the upper level 14%. Gas is somewhat lighter than air ( unlike propane) so it tends to disperse quickly unless it is leaking into a confined space ( a house for example) where it can build up to explosive levels.

      An LNG tanker at sea even if a tank was holed is, in my non expert opinion, probably more in danger of fire than an explosive blast.

  4. sam
    Jun 17, 2018 at 9:54 pm

    Why do we never see any leading technology manufactured in the US of A in all these articles. It is always Korea, Japan and now China.
    What happened ?

    • Etwas
      Jun 18, 2018 at 1:14 am

      American corporations were busy buyiny back their own stock.

      But hey, nobody can beat you in the knowledge economy, aka, writing apps and food delivery by bicycle.

    • MC01
      Jun 18, 2018 at 2:39 am

      It may help you to know the LNG liquefaction technology used worldwide is almost wholly in US hands: between them Air Products & Chemicals (ACPI) and ConocoPhillips (COP) have designed 96% of the liquefaction islands used worldwide.
      COP leaves the manufacturing to others but ACPI still does most of the manufacturing itself.

      The emergence of the Big Three of Korea as the dominating force in shipbuilding is a very complicated matter and doesn’t rest solely on technical prowess or immense manufacturing capabilities.
      But that is a topic for another day… maybe. ;-)

      • Mike G
        Jun 18, 2018 at 2:13 pm

        I would really like to see an article on shipbuilding and the various economic/technical/political factors involved. In my lifetime it has shifted from predominantly Europe/US to Japan, to Korea and now toward China. But some of it like building cruise ships remains in Europe despite higher labor costs/regulations.

        • MC01
          Jun 18, 2018 at 3:54 pm

          The much announced shift to China will have to take some time because, plainly put, the Big Three are still employing every trick you can think of to increase the size of their order books. Legal or otherwise, as the Daewoo accounting scandal (and following bailout) two years ago proved.

          The reason cruise ships are still built in Europe is rather simple to explain: compared to cargo ships, be them LNG carriers, oil tankers or container ships, they are a very small niche market. Even ferries are much bigger business (just think about Indonesia). Big Asian shipyards have little interest in such a small niche.
          Heavy subsidies (Fincantieri, the largest cruise ship builder in the world, is 76.8% owned by the Italian government) do the rest.

  5. cd
    Jun 17, 2018 at 10:06 pm

    LNG has been a good ride, still less than 7x forward earnings…
    would wait for a pullback if it comes….last year was breakout year, should be a good play into for years to come…

  6. Maximus Minimus
    Jun 17, 2018 at 10:47 pm

    What percentage of energy is used due to liquefaction?

    • Maximus Minimus
      Jun 17, 2018 at 10:48 pm

      correction: for liquefaction?

    • MC01
      Jun 18, 2018 at 2:08 am

      The APC C3MR process, the most widely used liquefaction process worldwide, has a power requirement of 0.24kW per KG of LNG.
      The exact thermal efficiency of the process depends on the “driver” used, meaning the motor employed to drive the whole process, and the exact configuration used: how many mechanical and power generating drives per driver and how many units operating in parallel.

      The Qatargas LNG carriers use electric motors as drivers due to the ready availability of large quantities of electric power onboard, but on LNG liquefaction plants on shore (technically known as LNG Trains), heavy duty gas turbines (HDGT) have been widely used in the past two decades. Since 2007 or so aero derivative gas turbines (ADGT) have started to become more and more widespread as they are more thermally efficient, lighter and easier to replace.
      The most widely employed ADGT is the Rolls-Royce Trent, chiefly due to its excellent “hot and high” performances which are a major boon when operating LNG trains in extreme weather conditions.

      • Maximus Minimus
        Jun 18, 2018 at 11:02 am

        If memory serves, Rolls-Royce Trent is used in airliners. Is it the same engine?

        • MC01
          Jun 18, 2018 at 4:06 pm

          Basically yes: Rolls-Royce claims 80% parts commonality between the Trent 60 (industrial gas turbine) and the Trent 800 (the version used on the Boeing 777 airliner).
          Rolls-Royce has a long tradition of building aero derivative gas turbines (ADGT) which have proven to be both extremely satisfactory in service and very long-lived.
          The Avon ADGT, based on the Avon aero engine which first flew in 1950 and was used on the first commercial jetliner (the deHavilland Comet) is still so popular in 2007 RR started offering an upgrade for it. Despite their “Stone Age” technology those Avon’s can easily hit 50,000 hours without any malfunction and RR publicly ackowledged some engines have hit 100,000 hours with no malfunctions.

  7. John
    Jun 17, 2018 at 11:37 pm

    You think Exxon Valdez oil spill was bad ?
    Wait till something happens to this LNG wonder ship.

    About 80 years ago dirigibles were the most efficient means of transportation.

    After Hindenburg disaster

    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hindenburg_disaster

    all dirigibles were scrapped,efficiency be damned !

    • Jun 18, 2018 at 12:26 am

      There is a HUGE difference between hydrogen in gaseous form and natural gas in liquefied form at -162°C.

      BTW, hydrogen remains a common industrial gas. Hydrogen has not been scrapped. What has been scrapped were dirigibles. Turns out, airplanes were the technology the world lined up behind since they’re MUCH faster. And some of those planes crashed too and killed everyone on board, and we still have planes. Millions of cars crashed and killed people, and we’re still driving cars, amazingly.

      • alex in san jose AKA digital Detroit
        Jun 18, 2018 at 4:57 am

        Dirigibles were a real handful, too, as well as being slow. The wind could really push ’em around and docking was always a tricky process unless in a dead calm.

        And yeah, H2 is used for tons of things. You can even get tiny torches for jewelry work that generate their own H2 and O by hydrolyzing water and then burning the two gases together. Using my friend’s gas chromatograph, one of the essential parts, the detector, used an oxygen/hudrogen flame. So of course there was a big tank of hydrogen and one of oxygen there in the chromatography lab. Compared to cars, there are essentially zero people being killed by hydrogen. Honestly, I can’t think of any, really, although there are probably a few freak accidents with the stuff.

        • John
          Jun 18, 2018 at 10:02 am

          Decisions are not always made based on cost-benefit analysis.

          Probably general population overreacted but after Hindenburg the extinction of dirigibles was total.

          Hopefully LNG ship will never explode under the London Bridge on Thames river

      • Ambrose Bierce
        Jun 18, 2018 at 10:38 am

        seems to me there was a prototype natural gas and hydrogen electric generator for residential use a few years ago? There was also the home nuclear reactor

    • MC01
      Jun 18, 2018 at 3:04 am

      Rest assured that large companies operating LNG carrier fleets, such as Qatargas and Maersk, take safety very very seriously, for no other reason they have to keep insurance costs down.

      While accidents can always happen, LNG carrier owners have learned a lot from procedures used in the commercial aviation industry.
      To this allow me to add the fact there are still no fly-by-night companies operating LNG carriers has helped: the shenanigans pulled by companies such as China Fisheries Group are the last thing we need these days, with more and larger ships sailing the oceans.

    • robt
      Jun 18, 2018 at 10:27 am

      Interesting in that article is that the US embargo on the sale of helium, which is non-flammable, to Germany is not mentioned. This caused the need for the Hindenburg to be redesigned to use hydrogen.
      Dirigibles were not necessarily efficient, with a huge vehicle carrying only about 100 passengers and crew, but they were luxurious and afforded leisurely travel and sightseeing, rather like regular travel ships – or even cruise ships used to offer before they became behemoths resembling traveling small cities.
      And how many catastrophic airliner crashes have a 70% survival rate?

      • nick kelly
        Jun 18, 2018 at 11:21 am

        And how many catastrophic airliner crashes have a 70% survival rate?

        None, because you’ve defined them as catastrophic.
        But lots of non-catastrophic crashes have no fatalities.

        I have a soft spot for airships but the reason for these dinosaurs lingering into the 30’s was an odd lull in airplane progress.

        We can hardly imagine this today but in the thirties much of the progress was by private persons ordering custom- built aircraft.
        Howard Hughes had one built by Lockheed and used it to capture many world records.

        Even more odd, Lord Rothmere in the UK ordered Bristol to build him just one of the best twin they could. It would have such ground- breaking features like wing flaps.
        The result at 300 mph was faster than any RAF fighter (still biplanes)
        So it was taken over by the govt as a medium bomber and a hundred were ordered. Nothing drives tech like war.

        Imagine say the B 1- B or F 35 being built for a private citizen.

        The need for speed also doomed the great flying boats, overcoming their advantage of not needing an airport. But I’ve been able to see the Martin Mars in action as a water bomber.

        The e

      • John
        Jun 18, 2018 at 12:29 pm

        The problem with helium is that it has the highest leakage rate of all gases.The only stuff that totally prevents helium leakage is leather treated with gold dust.

        I still see daredevils riding air balloons – w/o any redeeming social purpose ;-)

  8. R Davis
    Jun 18, 2018 at 12:05 am

    Great article – thank you.
    I just watched –
    The art of controlling an LNG carrier
    Largest LNG ship in the world
    Community at Risk: Hazards of LNG – Youtube

    “Hey ma, look at how far we have come” !!

  9. VarAway
    Jun 18, 2018 at 4:04 am

    Thank you MC01, for this excellent article.

    How things have changed in the LNG market.

    I recall 2 LNG carriers, laid up for AGES somewhere in the UK.
    Fall river? 2 sisterships, owned by NedLloyd and Cunard or P&O….that must have cost them a fortune….

    • MC01
      Jun 18, 2018 at 5:46 am

      Those ships were most likely built at the end of the 60’s or in the early 70’s when the Gas Boards were keen to get into the Algerian LNG trade because in 1968 exploration in British waters had more or less stopped, not due to lack of oil and natural gas but because of politics.
      No need to tell that over the next two years the North Sea saw a series of spectacular oil and natural gas discoveries between Scotland and Norway, at a time when offshore drilling was really starting to come of age.

      As it often happened in those years, British politicians, economic planners and industrialists seemed to have an almost supernatural ability to get everything wrong.

      • Harry K
        Jun 18, 2018 at 2:08 pm

        Didn’t El Paso (Natural Gas – not sure of the name) build a number of ships – I think in the 70’s . Did any of those ever go into service?

        Thanks! great technical article on marine engineering

        • MC01
          Jun 18, 2018 at 4:18 pm

          Good memory and thanks for the compliments.
          The El Paso Corporation (bought in 2012 by Kinder Morgan) struck a deal with Sonatrach, the Algerian SOE energy conglomerate, in 1969 to buy LNG which El Paso would then distribute through their extensive pipeline network.
          I think El Paso ordered nine LNG carriers, which started to enter service in 1978, just in time to become useless because after the Natural Gas Policy Act El Paso had access to enormous quantities of natural gas near home, in the Permian Basin.

        • baldski
          Jun 18, 2018 at 5:22 pm

          No, El Paso built two import facilities, one in Cove Point , MD and another in Elba Island, GA , and a bunch of ships to land gas from Algeria to these re-gasification plants.

          They imported some gas but the Algerians wanted to raise their prices and one of El Paso vessels ran aground off of Spain, raising hackles in the LNG world. El Paso folded LNG operations thereafter.

  10. Nicko2
    Jun 18, 2018 at 6:42 am

    LNG fleets are a key tool to loosen the grip of Russia on EU energy. — also good for US frackers. Winning all around.

  11. IanCad
    Jun 18, 2018 at 7:02 am

    Thanks for these very interesting articles.

  12. Kk
    Jun 18, 2018 at 9:38 am

    I’m sure technology is the answer, it’s just that I’m not sure about the question….

    • Mean Chicken
      Jun 19, 2018 at 9:35 am

      The human race evolves externally. It may be argued, humans are also capable of reverse evolution as well, perhaps due to the former?

  13. FlashFlud
    Jun 18, 2018 at 2:19 pm

    MC01, interesting article explaining the finer points of LNG shipping, congrats.

    Here’s a question for you: in the next 3 years, does US and Australian liquefaction capacity coming online reduce overcapacity concerns for LNG shippers? And as a result, will those “spot” day rates per vessel come up/make it easier for ships coming off of long-term time charters to re-charter?

    I’m interested in the cyclical position of all the US-traded LNG shippers organized as LP’s. (Dynagas LNG Partners, Teekay LNG Partners, Golar, Hoegh, etc.)

    • MC01
      Jun 18, 2018 at 4:31 pm

      The only advice I can give to you here is to watch the markets those LNG shippers supply.
      Four markets stand out for their growth over the past two years: China, India, Mexico and South Korea. Exports to Japan are starting to pick up after two horrible years, but Japan, very much like Europe is rapidly becoming oversupplied due to the excellent prices LNG can fetch there.
      So keep an eye on the shippers which are investing on those four markets.

      Taiwan is another potentially interesting growth market but like Japan it faces oversupply concerns and its complicated international status does not encourage shippers to be exactly forthcoming about it.

      Hope this helped you out a bit.

      • FlashFlud
        Jun 18, 2018 at 5:13 pm

        How do you track purchasing trends by country/region? And further, where do you usually source your data? I don’t ask to be obnoxious, but only because LNG is a bit of a “dark” market.

        What I use is the Platts oil-linked “spot” LNG price that they publish based on the japanese crude cocktail, which is kind of useful, except they don’t disclose some key assumptions – i.e. when their methodology changes and how relevant the linkage to crude is at this point with US contract priced to Henry Hub. And I know the Japanese government publishes its own stats on importation of gas every month, which I’ve been using but discounting a little because of the possibility of nuclear restarts. I’ve heard KOGAS does the same, but I can’t yet find it.

        But are there (monthly, yearly) importation numbers on the growth demand markets – i.e. China, India, or Taiwan?

        Another thing I use is the “International Gas Union” World LNG report, which comes out yearly and has some greater numbers on capacity in liquefaction, shipping, and regas respectively . The only thing that it lacks is overland pipeline connection capacity #’s, which I view as a bit of an existential threat to LNG viability as a product, since it’d probably be cheaper.

        Lastly, Cheniere’s earnings presentations and their CMO Anatoly Feygin’s market updates tend to give a pretty decent idea of what’s going on, but obviously it’s through rose-tinted glasses.

        I can’t afford a WoodMac subscription but I’m told they have some price estimations.

        But apart from that, it’s a lot of guesswork, working backwards from what you know to what could be going on. So wanted to get your ideas on data sources.

        • MC01
          Jun 19, 2018 at 1:41 am

          LNG exports from the US (and pricing) are tracked month by month by the Energy Information Administration, which then publishes data on their website for all to see: https://www.eia.gov/naturalgas/
          To see exports click on “Data” then “US exports by country”. They are broken down by pipeline and LNG, and LNG is further broken down by ship, rail and truck.
          Even if a country received a single natural gas shipment two years ago you can find it there. Very well made and useful website.

  14. Gunther
    Jun 18, 2018 at 6:03 pm

    Does it really take so little energy to cool and liquefy methane? I do not have a source for the number but my memory says that it takes 25% of the energy content of the natural gas to liquify it. That makes for an expensive process.

    • MC01
      Jun 19, 2018 at 2:43 am

      The APC C3MR process, the most widely used worldwide, uses 0.24kW to produce 1KG of LNG.
      The exact thermal efficiency of the process depends on the motor/s used to drive the process: electric motors are used on the reliquefaction plants aboard the Qatargas LNG carrier fleet and in small liquefaction plants where electric power is cheap.
      Generally speaking however turbines are used.
      Until 2000 or so steam turbines dominated, then they were replaced by heavy duty gas turbines (HDGT) and since 2007 the trend is towards aero-derived gas turbines (ADGT).

      The problem of thermal efficiency is of course critical and is what in the end drove LNG train designers towards ADGT, especially the Rolls-Royce Trent 60 which is derived from an aero engine well known for its excellent “hot and high” performances: generally speaking the thermal efficiency of a gas turbine (I am a chemist, not an engineer, so bear with me here) drops off in non-linear fashion the higher the ambient temperature and lower the air pressure.
      As the largest LNG trains are located in areas of high or even extremely high temperatures (think Qatar, where Summer temperatures over 40°C are common), this issue is absolutely critical: the Trent 60 can keep a thermal efficiency of around 40% in these extreme conditions while traditional industrial gas turbines usually fall to about 35%. Of course turbine fouling will erode efficiency long term, but the most recent ADGT’s have design features to keep it under tight control.

      • Roland
        Jun 19, 2018 at 7:42 pm

        Meanwhile, the Russian LNG project on the Yamal peninsula has lots of 0C seawater and often -40C air to precool their gas, so their trains don’t have to work nearly as hard.

        • MC01
          Jun 20, 2018 at 12:02 pm

          Yamal LNG is a joint venture between Novatek (Russia), Total (France) and CNPC (China) and was built almost exclusively with the Chinese market in mind.

          What I found truly ironic about it is that for all the talk about China’s “Silk Roads” when all was said and done icebreaking LNG carriers were found to be the cheapest way to bring natural gas from Siberia to China. To add to the irony these ships are being built not in China but in Korea.
          If we want to pile a little more, the whole infrastructure was designed by a consortium composed of Technip (France), JGC and Chiyoda (both Japanese companies) and built by Russian contractors.

          Like it happened in the days of yore, it seems once the Silk Road leaves Dunhuang China loses most of her interest.

  15. WSKJ
    Jun 18, 2018 at 8:26 pm

    Wonderful article, followed by some fine commentary. Thank you.

  16. Tom
    Jun 19, 2018 at 6:21 am

    It seems that aerogel would be a better solution for insulating the LNG tanks.

    • MC01
      Jun 19, 2018 at 7:50 am

      Very promising material and extremely useful on small scale applications but with a major drawback for large scale applications: price.

      Since the late 90’s there have been periodical claims of revolutionary breakthroughs that would lower the price of aerogel by 50, 60 or even 90% which have turned to be a lot of hot air. Prices have gone down since aerogel was first put into industrial production (1997? 1998?), but not so much as to make it a viable alternative to cheaper insulation materials such as Styrofoam for large scale projects, at least not without large subsidies.

      However rest assured the moment fiber-reinforced aerogel will be cheap enough it will be trialed in some part of the LNG cycle.

  17. Juanfo
    Jun 19, 2018 at 1:26 pm

    Thank you for sharing your knowledge MC01

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