The LNG industry is going through a very active period with new export and import projects being announced almost daily. One major driver in the LNG industry in recent years has been the increasing price of natural gas, especially in the U.S.A., and hence, there is a growing interest in bringing natural gas to this market. The challenge is to bring relatively distant supplies of gas (from Qatar, for instance) to this market in an economically sound way. To do this, larger and larger production plants and importing terminals have been designed, creating significant economies of scale and more robust project economics.
LNG ship designs have also followed this trend in recent years, with cargo capacity creeping upwards from the previously standard 125,000 cbm capacity to today's 145,000 cbm vessels. With current planned LNG plant increases of some 100%, projects are now looking at increasing vessel size considerably. A lot of work has, therefore, been put into new LNG vessel designs of 200,000 to 250,000 cbm, as well as new loading/discharging concepts, new propulsion systems, etc., all designed to improve the transport element in LNG projects.
Despite strong LNG industry efforts to cut costs and a lot of R&D on the technological side, this is still a technically challenging and capital intensive business. “To LNG or not to LNG” is, therefore, a question of major importance for many oil companies today.
In this paper, we shall provide a general presentation of the LNG shipping market. We will also focus on some of the technological challenges this shipping market will face in the years to come.