LNG Harbor Towboats In Pittsburgh!

natural gas industryBrittany Thomas
Coordinator, External Affairs
Cabot Oil & Gas


Pittsburgh Region Clean Cities received an environmental grant from MARAD to study the emissions benefits of using LNG harbor towboats in its waterways.  

We’ve talked a ton about using natural gas as a fuel source for vehicles – from drill rigs to pickup trucks and everything in between, natural gas in either liquefied or gaseous form, offers plenty of benefits as a fuel source compared to diesel or gasoline.

But the abundance and affordability of natural gas has also spurred some very interesting innovations in terms of our other forms of transportation. One of which is a pilot project in the Pittsburgh region to study the conversion benefits of a LNG harbor tugboat.

LNG Harbor Towboat

Should the project prove to be successful, the implications are immense. There are more than 500 towboats in the Pittsburgh-region waterways alone – and all of them burn heavy fuels. Not to mention the large ports all across New England which could all stand to see the benefits of emissions reductions should this program be replicated.

A demonstration info sheet for the project also points out:

Along with job creation, potential economic benefits include such things as: conversions of adjacent diesel-powered dray equipment (cranes, conveyors, etc.) and over the road vehicles; expansion of rail lines that serve the docks and multimodal systems; power generation along the waterways including dual fuel at existing coal-fired plants and utilization of LNG for peak shaving periods; LNG reinjection and revaporization into rural distribution systems by utilities for heat/power at 100% pure methane versus 95% methane on most pipeline quality gas; conversions of natural gas to clean diesel (Gas To Liquids – GTL) that does not require retrofit of existing engines and new refueling infrastructure; cracker plants that make ethylene pellets from ethane in wet gas production for numerous chemicals, plastics (PVC), and downstream applications that are half the cost and much cleaner than conventional refineries processing crude oil as the feedstock; and converting drilling rigs, earth moving equipment, mobile water treatment, and “yellow iron” equipment can all take place.

Grant received to study LNG harbor towboat emissions

The program announced a major grant earlier last month which will allow the project to move forward. Here’s the full announcement:

Pittsburgh Coalition Receives First-Ever Federal Grant to Study Marine Air Quality

PITTSBURGH – Oct. 5, 2015 — Pittsburgh Region Clean Cities (PRCC) today announced that its western Pennsylvania coalition, Clean Fuels Clean Rivers (CFCR), received a $730,000 grant from the U.S. Maritime Administration (MARAD) to conduct a cutting-edge demonstration project to monitor and reduce diesel emissions from marine vessels.

The Maritime Environmental and Technical Assistance Program (META) grant awarded to the CFCR coalition is the first-ever awarded by the federal government, specifically targeting the marine community operating on the Nation’s inland rivers.

“We are excited about receiving the first grant of its kind from MARAD,” said Rick Price, Executive Director of PRCC. “Our selection highlights the quality partnerships the PRCC has developed over the years. We look forward to leading the way in the national effort to conduct environmentally responsible marine operations on our Nation’s river systems.”

The coalition will convert a harbor towboat to burn liquefied natural gas (LNG) as its fuel source, monitoring the emissions before and after. The project will require developing the technology to support the LNG conversion and the emissions monitoring.

The CFCR goal is to research and develop the technology to allow marine operators to use a clean burning alternative to diesel. This in turn allows them to meet new EPA emission requirements and reduce environmental impact to the inland waterways.

“The demonstration project could not have come at a better time,” said Jan Lauer, Board President of the PRCC. “PRCC initiated a feasibility study regarding the use of natural gas, and for the past year we have been working with the Port of Pittsburgh to study the concept of developing a marine highway for the region. The demonstration project is the next step in our evaluation efforts.”

The PRCC collaborated with Life Cycle Engineering, Walden Industries, MANE Resources, and Clipper Enterprises to submit the grant proposal to MARAD. Altronic, LLC, S&O Consulting, The Shearer Group, Inc., UGI Energy Services, LLC, and West Virginia University will join the demonstration project effort.

“This is an important next step in the development of marine operations on the rivers,” said Greg “Nemo” Nemeth of Walden Industries. “Our goal is to convert the towboat to LNG while limiting the down time to only a few days. Everyone on the team wants this to be successful, and so do I.”

“Life Cycle Engineering proudly joins the Clean Fuels Clean Rivers Coalition on this path to exploring alternative fuel use as a method of enabling more environmentally friendly towboat operations,” said Tom Risley, P.E., marine engineer, and Director of Energy Programs.

“This is a tremendous opportunity for the Pittsburgh Region and the entire Ohio River community, heart of the Marcellus and Utica Shale Plays, to demonstrate this innovative application for natural gas,” said Dr. Lutitia Clipper, CEO of Clipper Enterprises, and the Project Manager. “There are more than 500 inland towing vessels operating in the region; these include both regional and non-regional operators. There are 261 regional towboats operating in the Pittsburgh area, and almost 65 percent are in the harbor vessel category.”

“This is a premier inland marine vessel fuel conversion demonstration project and it is important that we bring together experienced experts to conduct the emissions research, and that we enter this aspect of the project without any preconceived outcomes. The integrity and robustness of the data acquired will validate the conclusions that will be drawn from this effort,” said Dr. Robinson Khosah, Managing Partner, and Chief Technical Officer of MANE Resources, and the Project’s Research Technology Lead.

The Shearer Group, Inc. (TSGI) is a global leader for the design of inland towboats and barges with a rich history of providing naval architecture and marine engineering services to the marine industry, with a focus on the inland sector. For this project, TSGI will be building upon previous engineering designs for a 4200HP LNG powered Z drive towboat, and a 2200m3 LNG bunkering barge, currently under construction at Conrad Shipyard.

“UGI Energy Services, LLC (UGIES), is pleased to be part of this impressive team dedicated to supporting the PRCC to take advantage of the economic and environmental benefits offered by LNG,” said Louis James, Director of Business Development. UGIES will be responsible for providing the LNG used to fuel the newly converted vessel, and provide technical advice on the design of the conversion system and development of the bunkering operation and procedure.

The Center for Alternative Fuels, Engines, and Emissions (CAFEE) at West Virginia University (WVU) brings to the project its broad experience in measuring the in-use exhaust emissions of conventionally and alternatively fueled in-use heavy-duty vehicles. CAFEE is a large research center involving over 50 faculty, staff, and graduate students that conduct research specifically focused on fuels, engines, and exhaust emissions. Over the past 20 years, the Center has conducted hundreds of research projects sponsored by fuel suppliers, engine manufacturers, vehicle manufacturers, Federal Government Agencies, and State Agencies. These projects have addressed issues associated with the full spectrum of fuel, engine, and vehicle performance and many projects have specifically focused on fuels and fuel effects.

An additional benefit of the project is the educational outreach effort that will take place with the marine community, regulatory agencies, first responders, and college and high school programs.

The CFCR coalition anticipates the towboat demonstration project will take 24 months. Upon conclusion, the coalition will publish a final report and share it with the marine community.

LNG Harbor Towboats

About Pittsburgh Region Clean Cities

Pittsburgh Region Clean Cities (PRCC) is a 501(c)3 organization and is one of 87 Clean Cities coalitions across the country. The coalitions formed during the 1990s in response to a call from the U.S. Department of Energy to build local coalitions of stakeholders to help fleets reduce their dependence on foreign oil. PRCC has the mission of educating and providing technical support to organizations and individuals that are interested in converting their vehicles to alternative fuels. To learn more about Pittsburgh Region Clean Cities, please visit http://www.pgh-cleancities.org/.

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3 thoughts on “LNG Harbor Towboats In Pittsburgh!

  1. Take a look at Jaxport.com, the web page for the port in the city of Jacksonville Florida. New container ships powered by LNG, and a plan to support LNG powered trains to move cargo to and from the port.

  2. I don’t know why they need to study it. Let’s just do it. it’s already been studied in other transportation industries and these studies show it is cleaner.

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