A United Nations-tied international shipping safety organization has tapped a Norwegian foundation to examine how liquefied natural gas (LNG) can be turned into a primary fuel source for ships plying the waters of North America.

The London-based International Maritime Organization (IOM) named Norway’s 150-year-old Det Norske Veritas (DNV), which the U.S. Coast Guard uses as an independent laboratory to test and review ship technology, to “identify the necessary conditions” needed to successfully shift to LNG for fueling ships in the IMO-designated North American Emission Control Area (ECA). A report is scheduled to be delivered to IMO in October.

Noting that natural gas is a widely available fuel across North America, DNV also said that LNG availability on the continent is limited. “The big investment decisions that have to be made related to LNG as a fuel are not made easier by the uncertainty and guesswork currently surrounding the feasibility of LNG as a fuel,” DNV said.

DNV’s Tony Teo, a U.S.-based business director, said there are potentially “significant market opportunities” for manufacturers, ship designers and yards that focus on LNG as “an alternative fuel for short sea shipping.”

Teo said the DNV research and contributions to innovation in LNG supply, storage, engines and emission issues already have helped demonstrate ship safety, market mechanisms and operational regularity can be maintained on ships fueled with LNG. Nevertheless, he said there are still “many variables and risks that have to be assessed and managed first, and we hope this study will contribute to this.”

DNV said it will study trends in international shipping services; ship types and routes in the North American ECA, current and planned LNG infrastructure, regulatory issues, environmental benefits, technology readiness and key enablers.

Last year IMO completed a feasibility study by SSPA Sweden of “LNG Fueled Short Sea and Coastal Shipping in the Wider Caribbean Region.” The Wider Caribbean ECA was developed in 2012 to become effective in 2014. The study concluded that more than 100,000 registered port calls annually are made in the Caribbean region and they contribute about 37% of the registered calls within the North American ECA.

Separately, Houston-based LNG Central launched LNG America Initiative to develop infrastructure to serve domestic markets, primarily the large vessel marine market, with LNG. LNG Central is forming a new company to own and operate the logistics infrastructure needed to deliver the LNG, and it has signed a letter of intent with Cheniere to arrange LNG supply for the initiative and become an investor in the new company.

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