Methane slip, the release of unburned methane into the atmosphere, remains one of the most debated issues in the growing use of LNG for shipping. While the industry says significant progress has been made in reducing or eliminating harmful emissions, a new study by an NGO says it has been able to document methane emissions from two ships in service.
Using a specially equipped infrared camera, the NGO Transport & Environment reports carrying out a survey on a clear day in November 2021 at the Port of Rotterdam. They claim they have been able to document significant amounts of methane being released into the atmosphere. They said the effort was limited to two vessels due to the complexity of conducting such a survey.
“Infrared images show unburnt methane being released from allegedly green LNG ships as determined by investigation,” T&E wrote in posting its images. They cite data from the International Maritime Organization that, according to the engine, “it has been estimated that between 0.2% and more than 3% of fossil gases escape the combustion process and are released into the atmosphere” .
According to T&E, the images show heat and gas emissions from the exhaust stack of ship engines. The bright light near the exhaust stack indicates a heat source. As the plume moves away from the heated exhaust stack, they said they could observe emissions of unburned hydrocarbons. They also had a peer review of the images by TCHD Consulting, an optical gas imaging consultancy, which they said also said the images are evidence that intense unburned hydrocarbon emissions were released into the atmosphere above the ship. The release did not quantify the level of methane slippage they claim occurs from the ships.
T&E says the bright light near the stack indicates heat and as the plume moves away from the stack and cools, they observed methane (T&E)
The NGO said it observed two vessels in Rotterdam, one being a CMA CGM container ship and the other a hopper dredger operating in the Netherlands. The container ship was the 23,000 TEU Louvre CMA CGM built two years ago in China as part of the French company’s class of large LNG carriers. The name dredge EcoDelta was built four years ago in the Netherlands.
T&E argues that there is an urgent need to address methane leakage issues due to the growing number of LNG-powered ships on order. They cited data that shows shipowners ordered more gas-powered ships in 2021 than the previous four years combined. The NGO says its analysis shows that more than two-thirds of new ships could be powered by LNG from 2025. “This would increase the share of fossil LNG from around 6% today to more than a fifth of all marine fuels in Europe by 2030. and locking in the use of fossil fuels in the 2040s.”
Delphine Gozillon, Head of Transport at T&E, said: “By promoting LNG ships, European policymakers are locking us into a fossil gas future. Ships may be painted green, but, below the surface, the truth is that most LNG ships on the market today are more climate-damaging than the fossil ships they are meant to replace.
The LNG industry, however, cites significant progress with new generations of engines that have reduced or eliminated methane slip. In addition, industry is pushing to develop biomethane as researchers consider adapting emissions scrubbers with new technology to capture methane emissions from a ship’s exhaust. In March 2022, Japanese shipping and engineering companies reported that they were make significant progress in developing a design to reduce methane slip aboard ships using LNG fueled engines.