We’re making gas cool
Super cooling natural gas to around 162oc below zero turns it into a liquid. This shrinks its volume 600 times, making it much easier to ship and use as a commercial transportation fuel and releasing less CO2 in the process.
On a cool and misty western Norwegian morning, Captain Harry Mellingen-Haugland eases Mastrafjord around the sea wall and slowly brings the ferry into dock. Despite its size, the 130m vessel appears agile and is surprisingly quiet, doing little to disrupt the calm waters of Boknafjord. From the ferry’s bridge, Mellingen-Haugland has a 360-degree view of the stretch of water he crosses tens of time a day.
This article was originally published by Wired.
Named after another nearby fjord, Mastrafjord shuttles between the tiny ports of Mortavika and Arsvågen. The 11km crossing takes around 20 minutes, with up to three ferries in operation at any time. Millions of people make the journey, which helps link the picturesque west coast cities of Stavanger and Bergen, every year.
“It’s the second busiest ferry route in Norway – in terms of vehicles and pedestrians,” says Mellingen-Haugland, surveying the view from his captain’s chair.
“In the winter months it’s mostly people who live and work in the area, and heavy transport. But during summer time it’s very much people on holiday in the fjords.”
Efforts have been made in the area to use liquefied natural gas (LNG) as a fuel instead of diesel. Mastrafjord, and its sister ships Stavangerfjord and Boknafjord were designed to run on LNG to reduce sulphur and NOx emissions, and other particulates.
So, what is LNG? Liquefied natural gas is a clear, colourless, non-toxic liquid, which forms when natural gas – mostly methane, with other alkanes, including ethane and propane, and carbon dioxide – is cooled to -162ºC. This LNG process shrinks the volume of the gas by 600 times, making it easier to store and transport to markets around the world – either by pipeline, truck or shipping.
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Using LNG can reduce sulphur emissions – as it gives off virtually zero sulphur emissions, particulates and nitrogen oxides, and can help reduce well-to-wheel greenhouse gas emissions. It has other benefits too.
“For those of us working and operating LNG engines, it is very clean compared to other liquid fuels,” says Peringe Rundhoude, chief engineer on Mastrafjord. “Inside the engine – inside the crankcase – it looks brand new when you open it. When you pull out pistons and cylinder liners for overhauling, you see the equipment is within new tolerances. Even with 50,000 hours wear.”
From his workstation just below the captain’s bridge, Rundhoude oversees a strict maintenance schedule on-board Mastrafjord, with spark cables, coils and pilot wells requiring refitting regularly. However, he can thank the work of Jeanine Klinkenbijl for the as-new appearance of his ferry’s inner workings. As principal technical expert for fuel processing at Shell, Klinkenbijl oversees the processes which ensure hydrocarbons, such as natural gas, are at their optimum potential for use.
“There are a few drivers to what I do – such as safety and efficiency,” she says.
“If there are sulphur deposits, we can remove them and turn them into elemental sulphur for asphalt or fertilizer. If you have CO2, it can be used for enhanced oil and gas recovery, or to store it using carbon capture and storage.”
But Norwegian passenger ferries like Mastrafjord, Stavangerfjord and Boknafjord aren’t the only vehicles that are powered by LNG. In 2013, Shell launched the first 100 percent LNG-powered tank barge. Greenstream – built and designed at Peters Shipyards in The Netherlands and managed by the Dutch based Interstream Barging – and its sister ship Green Rhine, are in service on the Rhine. Today Shell Shipping & Maritime manages 44 LNG carriers – around 11 percent of the world’s LNG fleet – making Shell one of the largest LNG carrier operators.
Elsewhere, LNG is being used in the heavy trucking industry. In October 2015, Shell opened its fourth LNG truck refuelling station in the Netherlands. The station in Amsterdam is located in the western port area, a location with significant turnover from ships to trucks that distribute goods into the city.
“This business is emerging and it’s early days,” says Thomas Chhoa, who leads business efforts on LNG in transport at Shell.
“We are committed to LNG as a fuel option, but it will take time to develop this market. Certainly in Shell we are investing in both the marine, and heavy-duty road transport sector to provide customers with this cost-competitive and cleaner burning fuel.”
The three ferries of Mortavika-Arsvågen are certainly doing their bit. Since 2007 Stavangerfjord and Mastrafjord (Boknafjord launched in 2011) have each made up to 41 journeys a day, linking Norway’s third-largest city with the country’s tourist hotspot.
In the winter months it’s dark when the ferries set out in the morning, and night will have fallen long before they make the final journey of the day. But these boats will continue to make their short, regular voyages, helping to keep families connected, businesses running and travellers moving forward to the next part of their Nordic adventures.