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LNG bunkering uptake could ease pressure on low sulfur fuel oil as IMO 2020 looms

Highlights

LNG bunkering infrastructure improving

LNG pricing economics looks increasingly viable

Singapore — LNG's uptake as a bunker fuel could alleviate some pressure on demand for low sulfur fuel oil as the deadline for the International Maritime Organization's global sulfur limit rule approaches, but it still remains a long term solution rather than an immediate one, industry sources said at an event this week.

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The IMO will cap global sulfur content in marine fuels at 0.5% from January 1, 2020, from 3.5% currently. That applies outside designated emission control areas where the limit is already 0.1%.

Shipowners will have to either switch to LSFO, continue to use HSFO with scrubbers as another means of compliance, or adopt alternative fuels such as LNG to comply with the rule.

LNG, as a marine fuel, is mostly suitable for vessels with fixed trading routes as LNG bunkering infrastructure needs to be further developed at the ports, Elfian Harun, environmental manager and assistant regional manager Asia Pacific at INTERTANKO said at S&P Global Platts' 3rd Annual Bunker and Shipping Asia Conference in Singapore.

LNG might make more sense for container lines, but it may not be that viable for bulkers and tankers except for LNG product tankers, Harun said.

Significant retrofitting is required for existing ships to enable LNG to be used as fuel, he said. Hence, this does not seem to be a very attractive option except for newbuilds, he added.

While there is momentum around LNG bunkering, its contribution in the global bunker fuel mix is only expected to be maximum 10% by 2030, Adrian Tolson senior partner from 2020 Marine Energy said.

"Ultimately, everybody will want to buy the cheapest form of the product for compliance, which will be blended VLSFO [very low sulfur fuel oil]," he added.

Still, some participants at the event said that once the tipping point is crossed, LNG would be a widely adopted solution.

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In 2017, CMA CGM announced it was going to use LNG to power its nine 22,000-TEU containerships. This acted as a catalyst to boost LNG bunkering prospects, industry sources said.

LNG is amply available, another positive factor for its increased acceptance, they said, adding that it also addressed other environmental emissions targets.

In April 2018, the IMO announced its GHG strategy and targets to improve CO2 efficiency in shipping. The IMO set targets that include a 50% cut in the shipping sector's GHG emissions by 2050, compared with 2008.

Compared with existing heavy marine fuel oils, LNG also emits 90% less nitrogen oxide. Through the use of best practices and appropriate technologies to minimize methane leakage, GHG can be realistically reduced by 10%-20%, with expectations for a potential reduction of up to 25%, according to industry sources.

Meanwhile, Oliver Yasuhito Imaizumi, deputy GM at Petro Summit, a subsidiary of Japan's Sumitomo Corporation, said that LNG infrastructure was improving rapidly.

LNG is available at major bunkering ports worldwide, including those in Asia, such as at the Port of Singapore, South Korea, China, Malaysia, and Japan.

The development of bunkering standards is also making it more workable, he said.

In 2017, Singapore for example, launched its first technical reference -- TR56 -- for LNG bunkering, which is aimed at providing a safe and efficient framework for conducting LNG bunkering operations in Singapore.

The main issues for shipowners to consider, while choosing compliant marine fuel options for 2020, is to judge which fuel is more efficient and more economical, Imaizumi said.

Imaizumi took the example of a 120,000 DWT Neo-Panamax to assess the price competiveness of LNG bunkers to LSFO.

The annual fuel consumption for this vessel would be about 20,000 mt LSFO compared with around 15,381 mt with LNG, he said.

Assuming a base capital expenditure of about $65 million for this vessel with a dual fueled LNG engine, and using Platts JKM prices from June 2018 to May 2019, on average, the annual fuel cost using LNG would be about $9.49 million, he said.

This compares with an annual bunker fuel bill of about $11.68 million, if LSFO is used instead, he said.

Imaizumi arrived at a net LSFO price of $584/mt using Platts Singapore MGO prices for the same period and discounting it with a value of $40/m.

This example shows that LNG pricing economics is favorable, he said.

"Over time, costs are likely to get reduced further as is the payback time for LNG fueled vessels.... so LNG is becoming an increasingly viable option for the maritime sector," he said.

-- Surabhi Sahu, surabhi.sahu@spglobal.com

-- Edited by Norazlina Jumaat, newsdesk@spglobal.com