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As interest in LPG as a carrier fuel grows, UK-based Babcock LGE has secured a contract to supply technology to a world-first newbuild project.

Next year will see the introduction of new International Maritime Organisation (IMO) rules that seek to limit sulphur emissions from global marine traffic. As of 1 January 2020, the sector will have to slash its sulphur emissions by 80%, reportedly the largest ever such reduction in transportation fuel undertaken at one time. For many vessel operators, it would be impractical and expensive to retrofit the equipment necessary to remove sulphur from exhaust gases, or to secure supplies of low-sulphur diesels and other fuels. As a result, interest in alternatives to marine bunker fuel has grown, particularly with regards to gas.

Alongside liquefied natural gas (LNG), liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) is a promising candidate, owing in part to availability of supplies and price. In recent years, a raft of newbuild contracts have been issued for LPG-powered carriers, particularly for markets in China and India.

This uptick in LPG market growth has created opportunities for UK expertise. London-headquartered engineering group Babcock recently secured a contract to provide the LPG cargo handling and fuel gas supply system (FGSS) for the first newbuild vessel in the world to use LPG as a primary fuel source. Ordered by an Asian shipowner, the 86,000 cubic metre capacity very large gas carrier (VLGC) is being built in China for delivery in January 2021.

In supplying both the cargo and fuel gas systems, Babcock’s Liquefied Gas Equipment (LGE) business draws on 50 years of expertise, and describes itself as the market-leading LPG cargo handling specialist, offering a “one stop shop” solution for this emerging LPG market. “This experience, plus close working relations with the largest tier 1 shipyards in the world, makes Babcock LGE the market leader,” LGE managing director Neale Campbell told Wireline.

In this specification, the FGSS will use LPG stored in a deck tank, integrated with the larger cargo handling system to enable transfer between the two systems during voyages. To ensure the correct LPG fuel delivery condition from the FGSS to the main engine, Babcock has worked directly with the main engine supplier, MAN Energy Solutions (MAN-ES), for over 18 months.

The vessel’s cargo handling system will also be equipped with the company’s patented Vent Gas Cooler (VGC) technology, which can increase cargo handling capacity and improve efficiency at lower capital and operating costs. Babcock notes that this technology has had a significant impact in the LPG shipping industry and is already operational in more than 80 LPG carriers.

“Babcock LGE is a UK-based company that is almost entirely export focused, especially the Far East.”

“The design of our LPG FGSS is integrated with the design of the cargo handling system, so we can adopt a ‘whole ship’ approach and optimise the system to meet particular shipowner requirements,” Campbell added. “We find that each shipowner has its own specific chartering and operational requirements, meaning that different FGSS solutions can be required for each new-build project.”

Delivery of the solution will be led by the LGE team based at Rosyth, near Edinburgh. The expertise anchored here, as well as the growing demand for LPG technology and other solutions, mean Babcock’s work is in high demand. “Babcock LGE is a UK-based company that is almost entirely export focused, especially the Far East,” added Campbell, “and we consistently achieve 50% of the world market share for the design and supply of LPG cargo handling systems.”

This effort is borne out in the award of two Queen’s Awards for Enterprise in 2016 for Innovation and International Trade, “which highlights our success and export excellence,” he continued.

With that in mind, the next few years would seem to be increasingly busy for the business. “Approximately 50% of the new-build enquiries for LPG carriers request an LPG FGSS, or to be LPG fuel ‘ready’ – i.e. the design is ‘for [LPG], but not with’ – facilitating the ability to readily retrofit an LPG FGSS to meet market demands,” Campbell explained. “In the future, we expect that the significant majority of LPG carriers will be LPG fuelled. We also recognise that, with LPG being a widely available commodity, LPG as a fuel for other ship types is attracting interest, particularly as a more viable environmental and commercial alternative to scrubber solutions.”All of which infers sizable opportunities for the company at home and abroad in the coming years.


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