Forum: Converting Tugs, Towboats to LNG May Take Some Time
Washington PA Observer Reporter
24 October 2014
By Michael Bradwell, Business Editor
OAKDALE – A group of maritime executives and public officials
agreed Friday there is tremendous potential for converting the
region’s tugs and towboats to liquefied natural gas, but several
said the goal may be a long voyage filled with challenges.
That was the conclusion of a day-long LNG Marine Forum at
Community College of Allegheny County’s West Campus, part of a
Clean Fuels/Clean Rivers initiative to build a natural gas marine
corridor that would stretch from Morgantown, W.Va., through
Pennsylvania and down the Ohio River to Huntington, W.Va..
The ultimate goal of the effort will be to expand the potential of
natural gas as a replacement for diesel fuel to an often
overlooked inland waterway system that encompasses about 12,000
miles of navigable waters.
Jan Lauer, president of the Pittsburgh Region Clean Cities
initiative, said her group saw the region’s waterways as a place
where it could work with river boat operators to achieve a cleaner
environment through using alternative fuels in place of diesel,
while helping the river industry here enjoy broader economic
The Clean Fuels/Clean Rivers consortium has a number of partners
that attended and participated in Friday’s forum, including the
American Waterways Operators, Fleet Energy America, Life Cycle
Engineering, the Marcellus Shale Coalition, Peoples Natural Gas,
WPX Energy, The Shearer Group, Port of Pittsburgh Commission and
A busy port
It was noted several times during the day that Pittsburgh is
now the second-largest inland port in the United States in terms
of freight tonnage handled, and is the 13th busiest of all types
of American ports – inland and coastal – surpassing those in
Baltimore, Philadelphia and St. Louis in commercial activity.
Another fact made abundantly clear by Robert Petsinger, a veteran
of natural gas applications for vehicles of all types dating to
1960, and chief executive officer of Marcellus Marketing Inc., is
the concept of adapting LNG and compressed natural gas for cars
and trucks has been around since the early years of the 20th
century. Today, he said, there are more than 20 million vehicles
running on natural gas.
As for marine vessels, presenters noted that the European shipping
industry has been using LNG for years, with a strong fueling
infrastructure to accompany the activity.
In the United States, the growing abundance of domestically
produced natural gas means there will be a good supply of
feedstock, said Tom Risley of Pittsburgh-based Life Cycle
Engineering, who studied the fuel’s potential for the Clean
Fuels/Clean Rivers Consortium.
“The good news is it’s there, the good news is we can get it up
(out of the ground), but can we use it?” said Risley, who noted
that LNG used in commercial river vessels would greatly reduce
sulfur and carbon dioxide while reducing operating costs.
“The largest operating costs for fleet operators is fuel,” he
Risley’s group found that the market for LNG from a commercial
river vessel perspective would be robust. According to data
provided at the forum, there are 3,900 tow boats with 112 fleets
in operation between the Mississippi and the Gulf Coast.
One of the biggest challenges seen by Risley is the infrastructure
needed to provide fueling operations along the rivers.
When it comes to tugs and towboats, another challenge is
designing vessels that can safely and efficiently accept the
cylindrical fuel tanks, said Greg Beers, an engineer and president
of Houston-based Shearer Group, which designs marine vessels of
Putting fuel storage tanks filled with LNG, which can be volatile
in small craft, is something particularly problematic, Beers
added, noting that it remains to be seen how regulations will be
written for the vessels, which to date, are essentially
Tugs and towboats are classified by the U.S. Coast Guard as UTVs,
an acronym for uninspected towing vessels. While Congress said 10
years ago that the Coast Guard should inspect them, the final
regulations may be several years away, Beers said.
“The last revolution for tugboats was World War II when diesel
engines built for the war effort were chosen to replace
coal-burning engines,” he said.
One distributor of LNG said Friday that a possible solution for
infrastructure could involve trucks fueling vessels directly, but
acknowledged that it would need to be done in an efficient,
economical and safe way.
“Like everything in LNG industry, it’s baby steps, it’s going to
be incremental,” said David Kailbourne, chief executive officer of
REV LNG, one of the first trucking operators to convert its
traditional diesel-fueled trucks to LNG. The company also creates
both LNG and CNG fueling stations for deployment to locations that
do not have access to natural gas pipeline service.
Regardless of the challenges, one participant said Friday that
creative uses for LNG are already being demonstrated.
During Friday’s luncheon, keynote speaker B. Perry Babb, president
of Fleet Energy America, showed photos of the world’s first
turbine engine-powered, high-speed ferry fueled by LNG.
The ferry is operated by Buquebus, an Argentinian company that
provides a floating hotel and casino in Buenos Aires on a vessel
capable of reaching 58 knots, or 66 miles per hour.
Buquebus solved its fueling problem when Galileo Technologies
deployed its “Cryobox” LNG fuel farm nearby, a storage technology
it has begun making in the U.S.
“Finding business models that work along with technology are
critical,” Babb said.