The UK received its first shipment of US shale gas this month aboard one of eight new Dragon-class carriers, the JS Ineos Insight
The arrival of the first shipment of US shale gas to the UK in September marked the culmination of a complex five-year engineering project that included several industry firsts. The JS Ineos Insight delivered 27,500 cubic metres of ethane to Ineos’ petrochemical plant at Grangemouth near Edinburgh on September 28.
Ineos Insight is one of eight vessels that will transport ethane from the US across the Atlantic under a 15-year charter with Denmark’s Evergas in what Ineos calls a “virtual pipeline”, providing the raw materials that are essential to kick-start manufacturing at the Grangemouth site. The ships, which are the first in the world to carry and run on ethane, will supply gas to the plant at a rate of around one delivery per week.
In a complex design process that brought together Ineos and Evergas with Sinopacific Offshore & Engineering (SOE) and Sinopacific Shipbuilding Group (SSG), an entirely new type of ship was created for the project: Dragon Class.
In a recent interview with LNG World Shipping, Evergas’ CEO Steffen Jacobsen noted that: “A typical round-trip voyage takes 24 days, including all margins. Each loading and discharge operation is carried out in approximately 24 hours while the combined sailing time of the eastbound and westbound voyages is about 21 days.” Whilst the ships were being designed and built, a simultaneous project was under way at Grangemouth to construct a 60,000 cubic metre ethane tank will allow the plant’s ethane crackers at full capacity. The tank was built by Germany’s TGE Gas Engineering, which constructed a similar storage unit at Ineos’ facility at Rafnes in Norway that will also import ethane aboard Dragon Class ships.
While LNG carriers are a mainstay of the shipping industry, ethane carriers are not – a fact made somewhat worse by an already risk-averse industry. Indeed, as Ineos Trading and Shipping CEO David Thompson told InnovOil: “One of the first comments was: ‘What do you mean you want to move ethane by ship? If you put it on a ship, it will sink.’”
However, in working with Evergas and other partners, that attitude appeared to change. “We came from real scepticism through to actually delivering something. Pipelines were already in place and there has been a lot of investment in storage and facilities but it has been straightforward from an engineering point of view,” Thompson added.
Insight and her sisters are 180m long and weigh 20,900 dead weight tonnes. With a crew of 19, each of their dual-fuel Wärtsilä 6L50DF engines delivers a power output of 5,850kW, equating to a speed of 16 knots (20 knots maximum). These engines are also capable of using the ethane on board as fuel – in addition to LNG and diesel – making them highly efficient.
The building of these first vessels has also been initiated in fairly remarkable time. Evergas signed contracts with Ineos for the first four vessels during Q1 2013, later expanding this to six vessels in Q3. Six months later, this grew again to eight ships.
Just over two years later, Evergas conducted its first sea trials with Intrepid and Insight during Q2 2015. Four carriers have now been delivered and four more are scheduled for commissioning in mid-2017. Despite the technical achievements on board the Dragon carriers however, in the end they proved unable to overcome the Scottish weather. High winds forced a postponement of the final docking, with the ship waiting offshore overnight before it could deliver its cargo the following day.
Wind aside, Ineos’ virtual pipeline is now flowing and more firms are taking note. In 2014 Evergas’ owner Jaccar Holdings created a new venture with Hartmann called United Ethane Carriers, and plans to build five 85,000 cubic metres very-large ethane carriers, as part of a contract with Oriental Energy.
With the dragons awoken, ethane shipping is now well and truly fired up.