• The "Oizmendi" (formerly the Monte Arucas) has been adapted to supply liquefied natural gas (LNG) to ships by ITSAS GAS, a company joint-owned by Ente Vasco de la Energía (49%), Naviera Murueta (25.5%) and Grupo Financiero Ibaizabal (25.5%).
  • The initiative forms part of the European Commission's Core LNGas Hive project to promote natural gas in the shipping industry, in which Bilbao Port Authority is also involved. The commission is providing €4.5 million in funding for projects to extend LNG use in the Basque Country.
  • Natural gas is a cleaner alternative for powering sea transport, where fuel oil and diesel currently predominate.
  • The number of vessels fuelled by LNG is growing by around 20% per year, marking an opportunity for Basque shipyards developing their own technology. This is also a chance to promote the Basque route as an option with capacity to refuel these more efficient ships.
  • ITSAS GAS, joint-owned by Ente Vasco de la Energía –the Basque Government's energy agency– Remolcadores Ibaizabal and Naviera Murueta, has just completed the first pilot test of a bunkering operation, loading Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) from one ship to another in Bilbao Port. It was the first LNG bunkering operation to be carried out anywhere in the Atlantic Arc and Mediterranean and represents a milestone in the advance towards cleaner energy in shipping, currently highly dependent on petroleum products.

    The event was attended by Arantza Tapia, chair of EVE and regional minister for economic development and infrastructures; Iñigo Ansola, director general of EVE and chairman of ITSAS GAS; and Asier Atutxa, president of Bilbao Port Authority. In the words of Arantza Tapia, this new bunkering service “positions us as a European benchmark for sustainable marine transport” and situates Basque ports in a key route for gas refuelling.

    In the pilot test, approximately 90 cubic metres of LNG was piped from the remodelled Oizmendi to a cement carrier in transit (a customer of the Molgas retailer which has extensive experience in bunkering operations with LNG) moored in Bilbao Port. The operation marked the launch of a new gas supply service for natural gas-powered vessels, which lack a broad network of refuelling points in European ports.

    The Basque Country is leading three projects for introducing LNG in the maritime area, which will be part-funded by the European Commission through its Core LNGas Hive project, in which Bilbao Port Authority is also involved. Brussels will provide €4.85 million of the €9.7m initially invested by ITSAS GAS and its partners in implementing new technologies. The project has three major milestones:

    1. Adaptation of the jetty at the Bahía de Bizkaia Gas regassing plant, to enable smaller ships to load LNG from these facilities (now completed).
    2. Conversion, adaptation and commissioning of an LNG supply ship capable of providing a ship-to-ship bunkering service in port and on the open sea, which has just come into operation.
    3. And finally, construction and commissioning of a natural-gas powered tug, led by Grupo Financiero Ibaizabal. This project is currently at the engineering stage and construction is due to begin later in 2018.

    LNG supply ship
    The Oizmendi (formerly the Monte Arucas), has required extensive transformation. In addition to its conventional fuel oil tanks, it now houses two large LNG tanks. LNG is natural gas that has been cooled to liquid form at -161 ºC, reducing its volume by a factor of 600 to aid logistics.

    LNG is increasingly being used in the maritime area, where it is an economic and more environmentally-friendly alternative to petroleum products. The work was carried out over a seven-month period at Astilleros de Murueta (the first shipyard to convert a conventional bunkering vessel for LNG). Among other tasks, it involved fitting two 300-cubic-metre tanks to house the LNG. ITSAS GAS's investment in the operation comes to €5.5 million.

    Sustainability in maritime transport
    Development of the supply chain is an essential step in increasing the numbers of vessels running on natural gas, which require a sufficient network of en route refuelling points. To achieve this goal, in-port LNG storage facilities such as Bahía de Bizkaia Gas are essential. Together with the new bunkering ship, it makes the Basque Country part of a sustainable sea route on the Atlantic Arc and the Iberian Peninsula, capable of generating new logistical opportunities and attracting energy-efficient traffic to the port.

    In addition, construction of different types of LNG-powered ships will enable Basque shipyards to develop a wide array of technological expertise and specialisation, positioning them at the forefront of the global industry.

    In general, sea-bound ships tend to use fuel oil and diesel, both of which are petroleum products and major source of harmful emissions. Natural gas is a real and practical alternative offering similar engine efficiency. It helps cut carbon emissions and minimises (or completely eliminates) other atmospheric pollutants such as NOx (nitrogen oxide), SOx (sulphur oxide) and particulates.

    Worldwide, the fleet of LNG-driven vessels is estimated to be expanding by between 15% and 25% per year. A further contribution is being made by European directives, which are increasingly restricting access to ports for ships with high emissions of sulphur and other pollutants.

    Europe and the Basque Country, aligned for sustainable energy
    The use of natural gas to replace petroleum products for fuelling ships has been established as a priority by the European Union in its fight against climate change and local pollutants. This project has received funding from the European Commission as part of its Core LNGas Hive initiative, whose aim is to develop an integrated, safe and efficient LNG logistics chain for the transport sector, especially sea transport, envisaging adaptation of infrastructures for small-scale supply and bunkering.

    In keeping with European directives, the Basque Energy Strategy (3E2030) set a series of interim targets for transiting from mass use of petroleum products in transport towards cleaner energy sources. Natural gas, used in road and maritime freight transport, is a natural ally of other alternative fuels such as electricity in road transport.

    The target is to reduce oil consumption by 790,000 toe (tonnes of oil equivalent) by 2030, i.e. 26% down on the current situation, mainly through action in the transport sector to progressively reduce dependency on petroleum products.