French-style gas storage vanishes from Russia | Polarjournal
The Christophe de Margerie was the first of 15 Russian-built LNG icebreakers to export liquefied natural gas from the Yamal Peninsula. Finnish architecture designed by Aker Arctiv. Image: Wiki Common CC BY-SA 4.0

The maritime transport of gas in the Arctic is done by breaking the ice and in a liquid state. Upset after the aggression of Russia in Ukraine, Europe sanctions the Russian economy, depriving it of its experts like Gaztransport & Technigaz.

Gaztransport & Technigaz (GTT) withdrew on January 8 from the project to build subsea storage tanks for the Arctic LNG 2 gas terminal in the Russian Arctic and the Zvezda Shipbuilding Complex near Vladivostock. The European Union’s 8th and 9th set of sanctions limit the activity of its companies in Russia, especially consulting firms. GTT being affected this French company is an expert in insulating membranes for liquefied natural gas (LNG).

“We don’t manufacture anything, we sell our expertise to fit membranes to our customers’ tank designs,” the company spokesperson tells us. Membranes are essential to protect LNG tanks. Liquid methane is kept at -161°C and in contact with it the concrete of storage tanks or the steel of ship hulls, both materials would break at the slightest impact. “We estimate that 80% of the LNG ships in operation are equipped with our technology,” the spokesperson adds.

An increased demand

In 2019, when Russian LNG exports had tripled in five years, Novatek embarked on the construction of Arctic LNG 2, a new gas terminal strategically positioned close to oil drilling on the Yamal Peninsula and on the Arctic sea routes to Asia to the east and Europe to the west. But it is especially the east that interests the Russians. Asia Pacific is increasingly demanding LNG to support its growth.

Among the investors in the project, TotalEnergies withdrew last December. And now it’s GTT’s turn this month. “The concept of Arctic LNG 2 is to build the storage tanks in the waters of the port rather than building them on the permafrost,” explains Hervé Baudu, navigation and Arctic maritime zones expert. For this purpose, GTT has developed membranes for underwater concrete tanks.

The membrane system is, much like a thermos, made of layers of insulation and stainless steel. Image: GTT / Roland Mouron

“To compress and liquefy the gas, the gas terminal uses a turbine comparable to that of a Boeing 777,” explains the maritime expert. The tanks take the form of a refueling dock where icebreaking LNG carriers – the name given to LNG transport vessels that operate on icy seas – dock.

“Today, there are 280 LNG tankers under construction in the world, including 240 in Korea, 30 in China and a few in Russia,” adds the GTT spokesman. Among them, icebreakers are in the minority; they operate exclusively in the Russian Arctic.”

“These are very powerful ships, 40 MW! This is four times more than an equivalent vessel designed for open water. If the ice floes overlap and form ridges, the ship will position itself in reverse and attack them with the hull and propellers. “

Hervé Baudu, maritime expert in polar navigation and Arctic zones
The tanks are not round, its walls are designed to limit the impact with the liquid when the ship is moving. These shocks would heat the liquid and accelerate its evaporation, which would increase the pressure in the tank. Image: GTT / Roland Mouron

GTT is therefore withdrawing from the Russian shipbuilding yards near Vladivostock. The French company has yet to finalize the membranes of 2 icebreaking LNG carriers about to be launched. Two units of a total order of 15 vessels. But the company assures that its 2023 balance sheet will be free of any Russian activity.

The European sanctions will not have much impact on the turnover of GTT, for which Russia represents only 6% of its activities. It is possible that the Russians will turn to South Korean or Chinese yards for the construction of new icebreaking LNG carriers. GTT also provides its expertise in these countries, which could, in the future, become more involved in the transport of gas in the Arctic seas.

Camille Lin, PolarJournal

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