The expertise developed in building the delayed gas-powered ferries will pay off handsomely in the years to come

By Tom Hodgens

This is a long post about vision and ambition.

Let’s start with a BBC article by Calum Watson from 2020 which asks the question…

“Why are we building gas-powered ships?”

The article begins with

“The two new ferries still being built in Port Glasgow have been making headlines for all the wrong reasons.

Glen Sannox and “hull 802″ are the first UK-built ships capable of running off liquefied natural gas, or LNG, as well as conventional diesel.”

He asks

“Was LNG the wrong choice – or a wise decision, poorly executed?”

It continues

“What is LNG ?

If you have a gas boiler or cooker in your home, you’ll already be familiar with natural gas – which mainly consists of methane.

If you cool this gas to minus 162C it turns into a liquid occupying only 1/600th of its original volume.

This Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) is much easier to transport and can be used as a portable fuel for ships or even trucks and cars.

But it is still a fossil fuel that produces carbon dioxide when burned.

Ending our reliance on natural gas in our homes is seen as a key climate change goal – so why are we building gas-powered ships?

Advocates of LNG argue it’s less harmful to the environment than traditional marine fuels such as oil or diesel.

LNG engine manufacturers say they produce up to 30% less carbon dioxide than diesel equivalents.

But that doesn’t take into account greenhouse emissions during extraction and transport of the gas.

The UK currently has no facilities to liquefy natural gas so LNG would have to be imported – probably from the Gulf state of Qatar.

The LNG for CalMac’s new ships first has to make an 8,000-mile journey by sea, arriving at the Isle of Grain terminal on the Kent coast.

It will then travel a further 460 miles by road tanker to Ardrossan in North Ayrshire or more than 600 miles to Uig on the Isle of Skye.

Together, the two ships would require between four and six road tanker loads of LNG a week.

There are other problems – methane, the main component of natural gas, is itself a greenhouse gas, 28 times more potent than carbon dioxide.

A small amount of this methane can pass through an engine unburned – something known as methane slip – and enter the atmosphere.

CMAL, the government-owned agency which owns the ships used by CalMac, says the latest engines minimise methane slip.

It also hopes Scotland will eventually have its own bulk LNG storage capacity, which would improve the overall carbon footprint.”

It is an excellent article. It explains the issues, why it is was done, and the challenges. But, there has been progress. In 2020, CalMac announced Scotland’s first LNG bunkering facilities will be built in Uig and Ardrossan harbours as part of multi-million pound projects. Covid restrictions will have played havoc with the timetable but with the Scotsman website recently reporting Ferguson Marine had given CalMac a delivery date for the two ferries, it means there will be LNG bunkering facilities in place at both harbours when the two ferries begin service.

There is a UK Government report, published in January 2019, called  

“Maritime 2050: navigating the future 

The government’s vision and ambitions for the future of the British maritime sector”

A download available.

On page 24 of 338, under a subheading – “Towards zero emission shipping” 

Paragraph 43 says –

“Air pollution is a significant risk to human health in the UK, and as the volume in global trade increases, shipping may represent a growing source of GHGs (Greenhouse Gases)  Regulation has historically been predominantly at the international level with important milestones in recent years the agreement of a global sulphur cap to be implemented by 2020 and the adoption in 2018 of the Initial IMO (International Maritime Organisation) strategy on reducing GHG emissions from ships by at least 50% by 2050. These and other developments are sending a strong signal to the sector of a global transition in zero emission shipping”

Paragraph 44 says

“By 2050, the UK will actively drive the transition to zero emission shipping in its waters, moving faster than competitor countries and international standards to capitalise on economic benefits and be seen as a role model in the field. Close collaboration between industry, government and different parts of the supply chain, will enable lessons to be learned from other sectors, ensuring new regulation is appropriate and helping maritime companies realise the benefits of research and investment. Ultimately this will lead to the development and swift uptake of clean technologies”

Scotland is leading the way, and the Scottish Government’s investment in Ferguson Marine, has also given the Port Glasgow based shipyard a head start in the construction of LNG ships in the UK.

A report from 2019

“LNG-powered ships to account for 60% of new orders by 2025: Korean study”


4 thoughts on “The expertise developed in building the delayed gas-powered ferries will pay off handsomely in the years to come

  1. I don’t know because I have not researched it, but an important question is.
    How difficult would it be to use the experience gained building LPG powered ships, to switch to building hydrogen powered ships ???

    Remember the proposal to build a hydrogen cracking plant at Invergordon, using excess renewable generated electricity.
    Hmmm…….. joined up planning ????

    Liked by 4 people

    1. I share your concern Pogmothon, indeed I would go further and suggest that LNG will be “previous generation” by 2025. In 2021 Norway produced their first hydrogen powered ferry, also a world first, and given the similar potential for producing green hydrogen in Norway and Scotland, I do feel that by the time the LNG ferries are in service they will be technically, and environmentally, out of date. Too late now to change course, but at the very least I would hope they could be developed to allow later conversion to hydrogen use.


  2. Scottish innovation. The £Trillions in fuel costs that will be saved worldwide. Scotland the land of discovery and invention. (Chinese).

    CCS funding reneged on and refused by Westminster Gov. Rail connection cut to Scotland. £Billions wasted on HS2. Journey times nearly twice as long in Scotland because of historical lack of investment.


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