The CMA CGM Marco Polo.

A more environmentally friendly way to fuel cargo vessels is on the horizon.

Ocean carrier CMA CGM has signed a first memorandum of understanding with energy company Engie to develop and promote liquefied natural gas as an alternative to heavy fuel oil for maritime transportation.

Farid Salem, executive officer of the CMA CGM Group, and Isabelle Kocher, chief executive officer of Engie, signed the agreement Wednesday at CMA’s headquarters in Marseille, France.

The agreement focuses on a joint CMA CGM and Engie technical and economic study on LNG as a fuel for future container ships, and a study about the development of engineering specifications for a bunkering vessel adapted to LNG powered container ships, so as to improve over time the logistics chain necessary to fueling this type of vessels, thus promoting their deployment.

“We are most pleased with this cooperation with CMA CGM, which is a leader of maritime transport at the international level,” Kocher said. “For Engie, natural gas is a key element in the energy transition. The group is actively engaged in the development of the diverse uses of retail LNG, especially for transportation. Ultimately, LNG as marine fuel will lead to a massive reduction in pollutant emissions.”

Salem said, “Liquefied natural gas has many environmental advantages. It is undoubtedly the fuel of the future of the maritime shipping industry that will progressively substitute heavy fuel oil over the next few decades. CMA CGM wishes to be a pioneer in this area and with the agreement with Engie, this allows the company to move one step closer.”

The companies noted that LNG use offers many environmental advantages compared to the use of heavy fuel oil — it significantly reduces carbon dioxide emissions, eliminates sulfur oxide emissions, and drastically reduces nitrogen oxides and particulate matters.

The two groups consider that the use of LNG as a marine fuel is destined to expand in the near future and intend to be active players in this development.

This agreement rounds out the research program undertaken since 2011 by CMA CGM to design more environment-friendly large capacity container ships.

In that regard, CMA CGM participates in two programs. The first is about the development of a “Dual-Fuel” large capacity container ship with a propulsion system that allows for a choice between using liquefied natural gas or fuel oil only. Launched in 2011 in partnership with the South Korean shipbuilder DSME, the design of this vessel was approved by environmental certification organization Bureau Veritas.

The second project aims at designing a large capacity container ship using a combined gas and steam turbine system to power this ultralarge container ship. The project was launched in 2015.

Engie manages a large LNG supply portfolio and has a significant presence in regasification terminals in Europe and worldwide. In 2014, it initiated a partnership with Mitsubishi Corp. and NYK in LNG marine fuel development and ordered the first purpose-built LNG bunkering vessel in the market. Delivery to their first customer is expected in early 2017 at Zeebrugge, Belgium.

In September 2015, the three groups launched a joint brand, Gas4Sea, offering a clean, reliable, safe and cost-effective ship-to-ship supply of LNG for the maritime sector.

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