Interview: TOTE's Peter Keller on LNG Bunkering

LNG tank trailers connected to the bunkering manifold at TOTE's dock (courtesy Applied Cryogenics Technologies)

Published May 25, 2017 1:27 PM by Paul Benecki

Peter Keller is the executive vice president of TOTE Inc. and the chairman of the SEA\LNG coalition, a consortium of prominent suppliers, shipping firms, class societies and others who are working to lower barriers to the adoption of LNG as a marine fuel. 

MarEx spoke briefly with Mr. Keller to get his perspective on LNG –  both from the practical viewpoint of a vessel operator and the advocacy viewpoint of a coalition leader.

TOTE runs the world's first LNG-fueled container ships. How are they performing, and how has your firm worked out the shoreside logistics for fuel?

The Perla del Caribe and the Isla Bella are working well, and we have the bunkering process in Jacksonville down smoothly. The ships have a turn time of only 5-6 hours, and they each take 25 truckloads of LNG to fill up. We worked with a number of suppliers to address the logistics of getting so much fuel from truck to ship, and we settled on a custom skid-mounted loading manifold, which lets us hook up four truck trailers at once. 

The trucks drive down from Macon, Georgia, about 250 miles away. We marshal them all in a yard near the docks before the ship comes in, then line them up by the manifold to transfer the fuel. As soon as one truck finishes unloading, another one pulls up to take its place. The other advantage of this system is that by unloading multiple trailers at a time, we don't have to stop and purge the system with nitrogen gas every time we disconnect one and hook up another. Instead, we can pump a continuous flow of LNG on board the vessel. 

We also have an LNG bunker barge under construction at Conrad Shipyard. It will be the first barge to use GTT's atmospheric-pressure containment system, and it will serve our Orca-class ro/ros in the Tacoma area. Eventually it will be relocated to Jacksonville to fuel the Isla and the Perla. 

In Tacoma, we also have plans with Puget Sound Energy for an LNG liquefaction plant, which will have a cryogenic pipeline directly to a bunkering dock. 

What do other shipowners say when you talk to them about LNG bunkering?

LNG's advantages are attractive for shipowners – it's probably the cleanest fuel we know, it has an outstanding safety profile and it's economically viable. 

Of course, infrastructure is still a challenge in many places. The ports are all aware of this and they are moving to address it – especially in the EU and the Baltic region. We think that demand will take off now that the IMO's Marine Environment Protection Committee has decided to implement the global sulfur cap in 2020, and bunkerers will respond to that growing demand. 

Do you think that the adoption of LNG is a major course change for the industry?

I think it's the next great revolution in maritime operations. Personally, I feel privileged to have been present for two turning points in shipping's development – the fast SL-7 class ships and the advent of containerized cargo at Sea-Land in the 1970s, and now LNG bunkering. 


The opinions expressed herein are the author's and not necessarily those of The Maritime Executive.