Transport of natural gas is green for LNGTainer
This Finnish container technology takes natural gas transportation into a new phase with cost and energy efficiency.
Tom Sommardal knows a few things about maritime cargo. He has sailed the world’s seas since he was 16, worked on 100 000-tonne oil tankers, been a maritime safety inspector and run his own ship-management company.
Over the years, the energy-inefficiency of oil and then liquefied natural gas (LNG) transports increasingly bothered him.
“For example, asphalt is carried in 200 degrees and the space between the cargo tank and the outer shelf gets as hot as a Finnish sauna,” explains Sommardal. “I started to think something needs to be done to stop all this energy from being wasted. My idea was that if the insulation was inside, not outside the tank, these heat bridges could be removed.”
Sommardal followed through by founding LNGTainer in 2011, but it has taken a further six years to make his dream a reality. The result is a patented LNG Container, which houses the insulation layer inside the container’s pressure tank and is combined with a second light, flexible internal tank. The company says this makes it 30 per cent lighter, adds 15 per cent more capacity and uses less energy than traditional containers.
It also brought longevity with the containers capable of storing gas for up to 60 days and removing the need for specialised trucks, terminals and storage facilities so LNG can be transported more easily to remote areas.
The backyard scientist
Sommardal isn’t a man who gives up easily. He first started testing his internal insulation idea on asphalt tanks in 2009.
“I lived in Katajanokka, in Helsinki, and boiled asphalt in my backyard. People were asking why it always smelled like asphalt in Katajanokka,” Sommardal laughingly recalls. “But these tests were successful and the insulation worked extremely well.”
There was interest to use the innovation to transport heavy fuel oils, but Finnish shipping companies were already preparing their move from fuel oil to LNG ahead of the EU’s low sulphur directive. While heavy fuel oil needs to be kept at 60 to 120 degrees, LNG is transported in -164 degrees. Hence Sommardal had to make sure his insulation also worked in extreme subzero temperatures.
That took six years, and another two years were added as Sommardal navigated LGNTainer through the required hoops for approval of its new container. It was a journey which would’ve defeated many entrepreneurs, but Sommardal was relentless.
“When I start something, I know I can make it work. Natural gas reduces CO₂ emission by circa 25 per cent and that is the most important reason why I do this, to enable more people to use gas. It has taken a lot of patience and money, but we know we have done everything right and gone through the right channels.“
Sommardal is not the only one with confidence in his discovery. LNGTainer is now backed by three million euros from private investors and the Finnish Funding Agency for Innovation Tekes*.
Sales across seven seas
LNGTainer finally launched the LNG Container in September and is working on its first orders. The company’s focus is now on sales and optimising its container production process, which it outsources to partners in Finland and abroad.
“We can use manufacturing partners, because with our technology ordinary pressure tanks can be transformed into LNG tanks. This means we can grow faster than our competitors,” Sommardal enthuses. “There are maybe 5 to 10 LNG tank container manufacturers globally, but thousands of pressure tank manufacturers.”
LNGTainer plans to deliver its first containers to customers early next year. Sommardal knows disrupting an established market isn’t easy but believes the growing demand for cost efficient and sustainable LNG transportation around the world places the company in a strong position.
“Our goal is that every company which requires LNG containers uses us. We want to have a large piece of this rapidly growing market.”
*Part of Business Finland since 2018