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Buoyant transfer system simplifies LNG distribution

LNG Industry,

Norwegian researchers have developed a new, fully mobile solution for offloading natural gas from ships to land. The new buoyant transfer system simplifies LNG distribution, which may lead to increased distribution to new global markets.

Simpler LNG terminals

Managing Director of Connect LNG, Morten Christophersen, explains: “Currently, a port requires specially constructed facilities for offloading LNG from carriers. We are developing an alternative solution for transferring the gas from ships to onshore bunkers that makes it possible to utilise simpler LNG terminals. This would help to increase distribution and use of natural gas, in more sparsely populated corners of the world as well.”

“The core of our system is a buoy loading system that is used to connect a flexible transfer line between ship and land. The LNG is transferred through this line,” Christophersen added.

A small-scale LNG carrier featuring prismatic tanks designed and developed by LNG New Technologies.

Universal Buoyancy System

The solution has been named the Universal Buoyancy System. It will help to cut costs and construction time, with the added advantage that it can be moved to wherever there is demand for natural gas. In combination with conventional pressurised tanks, the buoyancy system is effectively 100% mobile and is easy to set up. Different types of ships will be able to use the system without needing to be redesigned.

Connect LNG

Connect LNG has links to both the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) and the Norwegian Marine Technology Research Institute AS (MARINTEK) in Trondheim. The Research Council of Norway’s Innovation Programme for Maritime Activities and Offshore Operations (MAROFF) has provided funding for the research behind the company’s Universal Buoyancy System.

The researchers have carried out a number of model trials over the past few years and are now looking for partners for a pilot project with full-scale testing to begin in early 2015.

Conventional LNG transport

Conventional LNG transport between continents requires large, specially designed ships. In Europe and the US, there is often the additional issue of using pipeline networks to transport natural gas to customers.

Christophersen continued: “Major discoveries of natural gas in the past few years such as those off Africa, Indonesia and Australia have led to relatively low gas prices. This in turn has raised demand in new markets around the world – in remote areas where it isn’t feasible to build permanent pipelines.”

Connect LNG has carried out many model trials at MARINTEK in Trondheim. In 2015 the company will launch full-scale testing.

Small scale LNG

“The only good way to transport natural gas locally is to use small ships or lorries, known as small-scale LNG. Our solution will bypass the lack of specialised port facilities and infrastructure, which prevents small-scale distribution in many places.

“We estimate a demand for 260 small import terminals for LNG in Southeast Asia, North America and Europe in the next 10 - 15 years, so there is substantial market potential for our system out there,” Christophersen explained.


The Norwegian researchers have identified a number of challenges facing the expanded production of small-scale LNG terminals including:

  • High investment costs and slow payback on investment
  • Lengthy planning and construction time
  • Need for thorough seabed and environmental impact analyses
  • Stringent approval process in many agencies and certification bodies

There is also the potential for markets to change quickly and without warning. For example, the Fukushima nuclear accident caused huge demand overnight, and all LNG on route to Europe was redirected to Japan. The US shale gas boom also changed the market when the US quickly became an exporter rather than importer of natural gas.


In conclusion, Christophersen commented: “Even though natural gas prices have generally been relatively stable and low around the world, we have seen major and sudden geographic changes in demand. This is a disincentive to investment and slows down the growth in LNG terminals. The terminal owners often have long-term contracts already in place with customers before they actually invest in construction. Our solution can help to ease this situation.”

Adapted from press release by Katie Woodward

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