LNG and the energy transition
The impact of a changing climate is visible all over the world. The average temperature has risen over the past century, there is more rain and very hot days are increasingly common.
To slow down or combat climate change, governments around the world have agreed upon emission reduction targets in the Paris Climate Agreement (2015). In order to achieve these goals, an energy transition must take place towards the use of cleaner, more sustainable energy sources. One of these energy sources that can significantly reduce emissions is the use of liquefied natural gas as a fuel.
Liquefied natural gas (Liquefied Natural Gas, or LNG) is a cleaner alternative to fuels such as diesel and bunker oil and is therefore the bridging fuel to reach a zero-carbon future. Depending on the application, the switch to LNG will lead to potentially lower emissions of, among other things, CO2, nitrogen oxide and air dust. The transport sector, which is responsible for a few notorious polluters such as trucks, inland shipping and seagoing vessels, can better meet the emission targets with LNG and thus contribute to a better climate.
Yet the widespread use of LNG still seemed a long way off. This is partly due to the uncertainty of the measured quantities and quality of LNG that are purchased. A transport company that is switching to LNG as the main fuel wants to know exactly how much fuel is purchased for the price paid and how many kilometres it can cover with that. Unclear / erroneous measurements pose a huge economic risk to both the selling and the buying company of LNG. Given the volumes in which LNG is traded, the smallest measurement uncertainty can easily amount to hundreds of thousands of euros.
Measuring the quantity and quality of LNG is a major challenge. Natural gas liquifies at a temperature of -162°C, so its density is reduced by a factor of appr. 600 and the amount of energy per transport movement will be much higher. This extremely low temperature directly affects measuring equipment and the material it is made of. How accurate are the flow or volume measurements when storing LNG in a bunker or when loading a truck or ship with LNG at -162°C? How accurately and representative can the composition be determined, which is necessary to assess the energy content? What are the physical properties of the liquid? What is the effect on the materials used? Do pipelines become brittle due to prolonged exposure to cryogenic conditions? Do the instruments give meaningful results, or do they work at all in these circumstances?
Much research has been done on these topics, many of which are still ongoing. Models have been developed that represent LNG measurements under cryogenic conditions in terms of e.g. water measurements. However, what is lacking so far is field data under cryogenic conditions and on a scale that is representative of practice. The unknown territory of large-scale measurements under cryogenic conditions and the LNG safety regulations in the past, has meant that experimental research should not be carried out at locations where LNG is available and vice versa.
That is why we can proudly say that VSL has developed, commissioned and launched the first installation in the world, with which LNG flow meters and (parts of) test systems for determining the LNG composition with LNG can be calibrated and tested under realistic operational conditions. The introduction of this LNG calibration and testing facility makes it possible to accurately measure how much LNG is actually purchased and with what quality. This will create more confidence in the purchased product. With these measurements the use of LNG for companies will be less economically risky and therefore more accessible.
This milestone for the adoption of LNG as a ' greener' alternative to diesel and bunker oil, for example, is an important next step in the energy transition that we must go through to make our society more sustainable. In this way we work together to realise a better climate.
As of October 2020, the VSL's LNG calibration and testing facility will be ready and fully functional.