And people who need natural gas for power plants, fueling industrial complexes and everyday activities such as heating and cooking sometimes live far away from the resource. So a challenge for the oil and gas industry was figuring out how to economically and efficiently transport natural gas a very long distance from the source to the consumer. The answer? Liquefied natural gas, or LNG.
LNG is natural gas that has been converted to a liquid by super cooling it to -260°F (-162°C). This process also reduces it to 1/600th of its original volume. Once it’s in liquid form, it is clear, odorless and ready to be transported via specialized tankers that are designed like large thermoses to keep the LNG cold during shipment.
Qatar Petroleum and joint venture partners, including ExxonMobil, joined forces to help build some of the world’s largest LNG tankers—the Q-Max and the slightly smaller Q-Flex ships. As tall as a 20-story building and as long as three American football fields, Q-Max tankers overshadow their peers in breadth and girth, but their energy efficiency and carrying capacity is where these next-generation tankers stand out. They consume 40 percent less energy per unit of cargo than traditional LNG ships, yet carry 80 percent more cargo. This also reduces shipping costs, bringing the benefits of cleaner burning natural gas to more consumers.
The Q-Flex tankers are smaller, so they are acceptable in more harbors—but they still carry 50 percent more cargo and consume 40 percent less energy than conventional LNG carriers. The Q-Max and Q-Flex diesel engines also release 30 percent less emissions than conventional steam LNG carriers.
With global demand for natural gas estimated to increase by 50 percent between now and 2040, there is a critical need for energy-efficient ships such as the Q-vessels that can connect the world’s natural gas producers with growing markets. The equation driving the development of the Q-vessels is simple but truly impressive: the bigger the ships, the fewer the trips.
Take a look at a comparison of the first LNG tanker, the Methane Princess, to the Q-Max to see how far these energy vessels have come.