TOTE receives ECA waiver to pursue LNG conversion

AUGUST 5, 2012—In a ground-breaking move, Totem Ocean Trailer Express (TOTE), Tacoma, WA, plans to convert its two ORCA Class Roll-On/Roll-Off ships to burn Liquefied Natural Gas, after receiving a permit from the U.S. Coast Guard providing a conditional waiver from the Emissions Control Area (ECA) fuel sulfur content requirements of MARPOL Annex VI regulation 14.4.

According to the company magazine, the engineering, design and installation of the engine kits and construction of the LNG plant to convert the two ships could cost $84 million and take up to five years.

“We have a conversion plan that will essentially overhaul the engines with no impacts to our service schedule. Most of the work will be done underway—it’s going to be amazing to see,” TOTE President John Parrot is quoted as saying.

Artist's conception shown at top left from the company magazine shows the LNG fuel tanks on the ship's deck.

The permit was issued by the United States Coast Guard (USCG) under authority provided in Regulation 3 of Annex VI.

The North American Emissions Control Area (ECA) became enforceable on August 1. Ships that are subject to MARPOL operating in the ECA, which extends 200 nautical miles off of most of the continental U.S. and Canada, must burn low sulfur fuel oil (not exceeding 1.00% or10,000 ppm) or install and use an equivalent means of compliance approved by its flag State. This could mean installing Exhaust Gas Scrubbers or SCRs. Another method is to burn LNG, an extremely clean burning fuel, eliminating almost all SOx, 85 to 90 percent of NOx, with no particulate matter.

“When the Orca class vessels were delivered in 2003, they were purpose-built to serve the Alaska market and exceeded all regulatory and environmental standards. Post LNG conversion, the Orca vessels will again set a new standard for environmental responsibility. These changes will provide benefits to the residents of Alaska well into the 21st century,” says Parrott.

Operating between Tacoma, WA, and Anchorage, AK, the 839 ft x 118 ft Midnight Sun and North Star were built by NASSCO, San Diego, and delivered in 2003. The diesel-electric vessels have the capacity to carry 600 Forty-Foot Equivalent (FEU) Containers and 220 vehicles.

TOTE believes that these will be the first conversion in the world of vessels of this type. TOTE says that the shore side LNG infrastructure that that will be built to support its operations could also help other transportation industries in Puget Sound follow TOTE in converting to LNG.

TOTE is working with local organizations to develop LNG fuel and distribution systems, including Puget Sound Energy.

Among those known to be exploring conversion to LNG in the marine sector is Washington State Ferries, which has released an RFP for converting six of its ferries to burn LNG.

“This is the first permit issued under the Annex VI, Regulation 3 program, and it is tangible evidence that when committed organizations join together, innovative solutions can result,” says Phil Morrell, Vice President of Marine and Terminal Operations at TOTE.

The comprehensive project will also lead to the establishment of long-term supplies of LNG for use by other sectors of the transportation industry in the Puget Sound region. The project will extend environmental benefits throughout the region by breaking through supply barriers that have constrained the growth of LNG in the transportation industries.

 “We are very pleased that the EPA and Coast Guard share our vision for LNG use aboard our vessels, and were willing to work with us to make it a reality. I would like to particularly recognize the diligent and professional staff of the EPA and USCG for their hard work on this project,” says Parrott.

Besides the environmental benefit, TOTE believes the conversion to LNG assures long-term access to lower-cost sources of energy, enabling the company to provide economical service to Alaska for many years to come.