Supply vessel makes first test trip using synthetic natural gas
A shortsea supply vessel makes the world’s first test voyage with liquefied synthetic natural gas (SNG) in the maritime world. Gross ton 10.53 ElbBleu fueled on carbon neutral fuel at the German port of Brunsbuttel, near Hamburg for a trip to St. Petersburg, Russia, and a second refueling is scheduled on its return to Germany before continuing to Rotterdam.
The Trial Trip is the latest in a series of evolutionary efforts involving feedership. Built in 2010, the ship, then known as Wes amelie, has been modernized as a bi-fuel vessel with its engine modified by MAN Energy Solutions. This was the first conversion of a vessel of this size and type to run on LNG. April 21, 2019 Wes amelie received the first ship-to-ship LNG bunkering operation for a container supply ship in the Baltic Sea.
At the end of 2019, Unifeeder, which operates the 1,036 TEU vessel, announced plans for the trial using SNG. In the meantime, in early 2021, the vessel was sold to Elbdeich Reederei who renamed it ElbBleu. The new owner joined the effort to start the test project.
With a mixture of 20 tonnes of SNG and 20 tonnes of conventional LNG, the ElbBleu is expected to save around 56 tonnes of carbon output on its next trip to St. Petersburg, instead of operating on pure LNG. The ship was refueled with 20 tons of the new SNG for its 20 hour trip to Russia and back.
“The launch of the Unifeeder SNG trial in collaboration with our project partners is an exciting and timely development for our business as our industry continues to seek ways to reduce carbon production to meet the demands of customers, companies and environmental policies ”, said Jesper Kristensen, CEO“ A successful test trip will complement our environmental initiatives across Europe, such as our investment in more efficient domestic rail and barge services, as well as our ambitions to sustainable development in our terminals across Europe. “
The SNG is a demonstration product developed by Kiwi at its gas-fired power plant near Cloppenburg, Germany. The company uses wind power to produce green hydrogen. It is then subjected to a methanization process. Kiwi in 2021 also added a new liquefaction plant. The CO2 used in the process is obtained from a nearby biomethane plant. The fuel was delivered to the ship by tanker as the Elbe estuary has not yet built an LNG bunkering station.
“This is a crucial step on the road to decarbonizing shipping,” said Stefan Eefting, Senior Vice President and Managing Director of MAN PrimeServ, Augsburg, discussing the ElbBleu trial. “By reducing or even eliminating future emissions generated by the global supply chain, synthetic fuels and engine retrofits have a crucial role to play. While a retrofit instantly reduces a ship’s emission levels, synthetic fuels like SNG can allow it to operate 100% in a climate neutral manner. Today, we are demonstrating that any vessel upgraded to LNG can also operate with fuels generated by power-to-X technology, and even with a blend of fuels depending on availability. “
Discussing the project with German newspaper Handelsblatt, MAN said it was only a demonstration project as SNG is not yet commercially viable due to its cost and limited supplies. They told the newspaper that fuel currently costs three to six times that of conventional LNG due to production at a small test plant. They predicted that economies of scale would make the product competitive when demand increased and large-scale production began for the NSE.