Positioned for growth

Exmar is a global specialist in liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), liquefied natural gas (LNG) and offshore shipping services.

The company has a history dating back 180 years, and today one of the company’s biggest strengths is its detailed knowledge of the oil and gas industry – how it works, what equipment is needed and the diverse conditions in which it operates.

Dirk Carpentier, technical director of the company, gives some more details about the company’s history and fleet operations: “Exmar is actively committed to LPG, Ammonia and LNG shipping as well as offshore oil and gas applications. We transport large amounts of LPG and Ammonia worldwide both on the basis of long-term charters and on the spot market,” he says. “The company transports these products on its large fleet of vessels, which consists of four very large gas carriers, 18 midsize LPG carriers and four LNG ships. Two of these are conventional LNG carriers and seven have re-gassification capabilities on board, whereas three are under construction. In addition, Exmar has invested in ten pressurised LPG ships, of which seven have a 3500 cubic metre capacity and the remaining three a capacity of 5000 cubic metre – they have all been built or are under construction in Japan.”

As Dirk mentioned, several of Exmar’s LNG ships have re-gassification capabilities and this area is one where the company is constantly innovating. He talks European Oil and Gas through a recent improvement in re-gassing: “Methane natural gas is normally shipped in liquid formation in temperatures of minus 163 degrees. We are expanding in LNG carriers and the re-gassing ships, and as such we are developing with Excelerate [one of Exmar’s partners and customers] to secure access to key markets by creating various discharge points through either buoys near the coast or high pressure loading arms at quayside. To demonstrate, re-gassing buoys are connected to a pipeline system, which in turn is connected to a domestic gas system. They work by lying just under the waters surface until needed when they can be pulled onboard through a hole in the ship’s bottom – the buoy is linked to a high-pressure line that allows the ship to start re-gassing. This system has advantages in that by discharging high-pressure natural gas directly into the pipeline network, the need for a separate regasification plant onshore is bypassed – ships are able to re-gas from a remote location.”

Linked to this are Exmar’s ‘Energy Bridge’ regasification vessels (LNGRV), which are on long-term contracts to Excelerate Energy (USA) and which, in using this mooring technology, are able to provide an alternative to onshore LNG import terminals. By using the system mentioned above the vessel is able to regasify LNG on board and discharge the high-pressure gas directly into the consumer grid system, bypassing the conventional land-based terminals. The first of these vessels was Excelsior – with a capacity of 138,000 cubic metres, the ship was delivered in 2005 from DSME. Since then a further four have been added to the fleet while three more are currently under construction. At present two sets of buoys are fully operational, the first set (one buoy) in the Gulf of Mexico has gas volumes in excess of 500 million standard cubic feet per day, while the other set based in the Northeast Gateway can deliver up to 800 million standard cubic feet per day. This system is expected to continue to grow in popularity as onshore storage grows scarce.

In fact, such is the significance of this new technology, that Exmar was awarded the Ffooks Award at the 24th GASTECH exhibition in May 2009. The Ffooks is a coveted award, which is named after Roger Ffooks, a naval architect who is considered to be one of LNG’s pioneers. The Award is given in recognition of a company’s or an individual’s significant contributions to and achievement in the development of LNG technology.

In all of GASTECH’s history, the Ffooks Award has only been given four times – Exmar was the fourth recipient, and it was given in recognition of the company’s technological achievements on the Excalibur, LNGRV’s, LNG STS (ship to ship transfer), and for bringing in the first seaborne LNG to South America and regassifying it on the Excelsior.

Alongside its achievements in LNG technology, the Ffooks award recognised Exmar’s creativity in ship-to-ship transfer. The company designed and built a safe and simple system to allow transfer between any standard LNG carrier and an LNGRV in a side-by-side configuration, in relatively calm weather conditions. Exmar approached this task with its practical experience, taking on a challenge that many had failed to complete. This development enhances the possibilities for LNGRV’s by enabling them to take on cargo in open sea near the offloading buoy – connecting the organisation’s two main concepts of regassing remote buoys and ship-to-ship transfer.

Dirk describes the first time the company successfully completed a ship-to-ship transfer: “This was in the Gulf of Mexico where a total of 20,650 cubic metres of LNG was successfully transferred. We have just finished a project in Argentina, refilling our LNGRV, with LNG from our own and other ships, using our technique. In alliance with Excelerate we are unique in the field for this technology, and this milestone innovation provides enhanced operational flexibility for the regasification vessels.” All of the vessels have embarked on long-term contracts with Excelerate.

Dirk mentioned Exmar’s relationship with Excelerate on a few occasions, and he goes on to describe another recent project on which the companies had been working: “We’re working in an alliance with Excelerate and Black and Veatch, to create a floating liquefaction, storage and offloading solution,” he explains. “We have a tripartite agreement working towards this new solution. Black and Veatch is helping with the technological side of the project; Excelerate, as a gas trader, is bringing in its know-how of gas movement; while Exmar is adding the knowledge from the marine side. This project is developing nicely and we have clear ideas of how we want it to look now.”

With the organisation’s rate of development and innovation, coupled with the backing of its partners around the world, its influence in the market is set to grow. Dirk explains that it is a dedication to partnerships and innovation that has helped the company achieve its success: “I think by continuously searching for opportunities and taking initiatives in other areas such as floating liquefaction, the currently turbulent market conditions can be overcome. We have to accept that we are in a worldwide crisis and there has been a downturn in some areas of the business.”

Dirk concludes with his vision for Exmar’s future: “We want to continue development from our current position in the market. I think we will see further involvement in projects linked to gas on-board regasification and floating liquefaction developments. But you have to look quite far into the future to predict where you will be; lead times for floating equipment are still in the region of three to four years. We have interesting operations and contacts throughout the world, at the moment for example, we have a team of staff out in Shanghai involved in newbuildings – we are well positioned for worldwide growth.”


Services Oil and gas shipping services