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  6. Premiere on the world’s oceans: Volkswagen opts for LNG ships

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Premiere on the world’s oceans: Volkswagen opts for LNG ships

Many cargo ships are still using heavy fuel oil today. The Volkswagen Group is doing something about this. On November 15, the naming ceremony was held for two ships that for the first time will sail the oceans with Liquefied natural gas (LNG). LNG burns much cleaner than conventional liquid fuels.

Cargo ships are not exactly considered environmentally friendly. Especially when they are using heavy fuel oil. The Volkswagen Group is doing something about environmental pollution. On November 15, together with the shipping company Siem Car Carriers AS, the naming ceremony was held in Xiamen, China, for two ships which will sail the world’s oceans with liquid natural gas – known as LNG. It burns much cleaner than conventional liquid fuels such as heavy oil.

Both ships were built on behalf of the shipping company Siem Car Carriers AS. The first of the two new car carriers – following their transfer from Asia to Europe – will be deployed on the so-called America Round Tour from January 2020, from Emden to Mexico via several ports on the east coast of the USA. From there it will return via the US east coast to Emden. The second ship will start its first major voyage along the 12,000 nautical mile route in spring 2020.

LNG ships in overseas service for the first time

The two liquified gas tanks have a capacity of 1,800 cubic meters each. That’s enough for a complete round trip. And it ensures a ten percent reserve tank, sufficient for several days. Both new ships replace two of the nine cargo ships currently employed in this round trip, which are conventionally powered by heavy oil. They are the largest roll-on, roll-off (RoRo) ships with LNG propulsion ever built. And they are the first to be deployed overseas. So far, only smaller LNG-powered RoRo vessels have been built that are in service on short-sea trades.

The most important facts about liquefied gas:

  • How is liquefied natural gas (LNG) produced?

    Liquefied natural gas (LNG) is produced by cooling gases from natural gas to between -161 to -164 °C. LNG is only about one six hundredth the volume of gas form natural gas. LNG has great advantages, especially in transport and storage. In contrast to gaseous natural gas, liquid natural gas can be transported in transport containers and is not pipeline-bound.

  • How environmentally friendly is it?

    Liquid gas (LNG) burns much more environmentally friendly than heavy oil

    Liquefied gas is significantly more environmentally friendly during combustion than heavy oil or diesel oil, which is usually used in ships. This significantly reduces air pollutants: carbon dioxide by 25 percent, nitrogen oxide by 30 percent, soot particles by 60 percent and even sulfur oxide by 100 percent.  

Popular photo motif: The new LNG ships of the shipping company Siem Car Car Carriers AS

The technologically advanced ships are each 200 meters long and 38 meters wide. This makes them exactly as long, but almost six meters wider, than the car carriers previously in service, which only have a width of 32.5 meters. This is due to the space requirements of the liquid gas tanks. In order to maintain the same freight capacity as conventional vessels (around 4,700 new Volkswagen cars), the ships were built wider. They each have 13 car decks, four of which are height-adjustable. The car carriers operate at an average speed of 16.5 knots (30.6 km/h) at eco-speed mode and a maximum speed of 19 knots (35.2 km/h). They are powered by a 12,600 kW engine developed by MAN Energy Solutions. 

There are no special safety precautions when loading and unloading ships with new cars or during crossings. “On our round trip voyages bunkering of LNG will be possible at Jacksonville, USA and Emden, Germany. Both ports have successfully passed the simulation-tests.” explains Nina Cordes-Klasing, Shipping Planner, Volkswagen Group Logistic.

Alternative drives put out to tender as early as 2015

The LNG vessels are loaded in the port of Xiamen in southwestern China

Volkswagen had already commissioned the new construction in 2015. At the time, the so-called “Greta” effect had yet to be seen. Nevertheless, four years ago the Group was already very avant-garde: “We wanted to become more environmentally friendly. And we knew how long it would take to build and commission such ships,” recalls Cordes-Klasing. So for the first time the demand for environmentally friendly propulsion systems was included in the new tenders, which are due every five years. There were not many bids at that time. The shipping company Siem Car Carriers AS then proved to be a competent and financially interesting partner and was awarded the contract. In 2018, the construction of new LNG ships began in China.

The invitation to tender and the resulting contract were also courageous because the possibilities of refueling with LNG were not exactly numerous. They were meticulously investigated in advance. In 2015/2016 there was only a very thin network of LNG filling stations for ships worldwide. However, in Emden and on the US east coast there were already possibilities for the delivery of LNG at that time. This was also one of the main reasons for including the demand for LNG vessels on the tender of this shipping route. Meanwhile, there are more possibilities for LNG refueling.

The heart of the ship: This is what the LNG-powered engine looks like

The LNG ships are a promising start. Thomas Zernechel, Head of Group Logistics, explains: “Compared with other modes of transport, shipping is one of the most efficient means of transport. Volkswagen Group Logistics already transports half of its vehicle volume by sea. We continue to work on optimizing our shipping operations. The first two chartered LNG vessels are the first milestone.”

Kenneth Ross, CEO of Siem Car Carriers AS, is also delighted: “With Volkswagen Group Logistics, we have a partner with whom we can for the first time follow this innovative and future-oriented path in roll-on/roll-off transportation. The use of liquefied natural gas-powered vehicle cargo ships not only makes shipping of this type more environmentally friendly, but also much more efficient.”

7,700 ship departures per year on behalf of the Group

Every year, Volkswagen Group Logistics organizes, coordinates and is responsible for a total of 7,700 ship departures worldwide. Several hundred scheduled ships and eleven chartered ships sail the world’s oceans for the Group every day. Every year they ship 2.8 million new cars. In addition, there are 250,000 container loads on ships which are used to transport assembly and spare parts. The most important source markets for factory new cars are Europe (Emden in Germany, Spanish ports for Spain and Portugal), Mexico (a lot of exports from Mexico, for example the Audi Q5 is produced here exclusively worldwide) and South Africa. The most important target markets for vehicle sea transport logistics are Europe (above all Great Britain), the USA, Australia, China and Japan.

“We are now gaining experience with the first two LNG ships. Then it will be our goal to increasingly focus on environmentally friendly propulsion systems for the other tenders that are due every five years,” says Matthias Branka, Head of Overseas Transport Management at Volkswagen Group Logistics. This could be more LNG vessels, which might also in future be fueled with bio-gas, or also other new technologies. Worldwide there are many projects that study alternative ship propulsion and fueling methods.“

“Today many people envy our two new LNG ships”

For Volkswagen and Group Logistics, modern ships are far more than an image boost – or even “green washing”. Rather, they play a decisive role in ensuring that by 2050 all Group products will be produced and distributed in a completely climate-neutral manner. The Group is thus making a contribution to the Paris climate protection agreement, to the goals of which it has committed itself.

While many carriers were still discussing sustainability, the Volkswagen Group was already acting responsibly years ago. Nina Cordes-Klasing puts it in a nutshell: “Today many people envy our two new LNG ships.”

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