The magic of LNG

LNG tanker at sea escorted by tugs.
Nicholas Newman Eniday May 2017

The technology of turning gas into a liquid, transporting it by tanker, rail or truck and then converting it back into a gas is a bit like magic. But like all industrial innovations, it has human paternity and can be credited to two scientists: Godfrey Cabot, who patented a method of storing liquid gases at very low temperatures in 1915, and Lee Twomey, who patented the process of large-scale liquefaction in 1937. Their work laid the foundation for the subsequent commercialization of the process for converting natural gas into liquid natural gas (LNG)…

Odorless, colorless, non-toxic, non-corrosive and non-flammable, LNG is a form of methane gas chilled to about – 260 degrees Fahrenheit and colder than Antarctica on the winter solstice. LNG is compressed to 600 times its original volume and, like Doctor Who’s Tardis, an LNG tanker can store a greater volume than seems credible at first sight.

Facilitated by investment in large-scale liquefaction export plants, dedicated tankers now deliver LNG to regasification facilities in worldwide import markets. LNG has grown rapidly in importance since the first shipments in 1964, reaching 10 percent of global natural gas consumption and 31 percent of worldwide natural gas trade today.

LNG tankers cost around $200 million and are available for charter for periods of five years or more. The first commercial LNG tankers, the Methane Princess and Methane Progress, left Algeria for Britain and France in 1964. These first ships, fitted with Conch independent aluminum cargo tanks, had a capacity of 27,000 cubic meters and used LNG for fuel.

Of the 370 ocean-going LNG tankers currently in operation, 260 have steam turbines able to burn heavy fuel oil or boil-off gas. Another 60 are dual-fuel. Also, LNG tankers have grown in size — the largest in the Q-Max series reaches 345 meters in length, 53.8 meter in width and 34.7 meters in height and has a capacity of 266,000 cubic meters. Now there are also ship-to-ship LNG bunker vessels — small LNG tankers with a capacity of between 1,000 cubic meters and 3,000 cubic meters that deliver small quantities of LNG. Such shipments are suitable to serve the power needs of Indonesia and the Philippines’s many island communities. Read more

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