Shell to GE Lured by Gas-Fueled Ships on Record Supply
Comment of the Day

December 03 2013

Commentary by David Fuller

Shell to GE Lured by Gas-Fueled Ships on Record Supply

Here is the opening and a latter section of this informative article from Bloomberg:

Royal Dutch Shell Plc (RDSA), General Electric Co. (GE) and a company co-founded by T. Boone Pickens are planning investments in natural-gas-powered shipping as record U.S. output spurs the merchant fleet to use a new fuel. 

Clean Energy Fuels Corp., which Pickens helped start, will begin construction next year on the country¡¯s first fuel station for cargo ships running on liquefied natural gas in Jacksonville, Florida. Shell said in March it¡¯s planning LNG plants for the Great Lakes and Gulf Coast. GE, evaluating five locations, says the U.S. will need 50 to 100 small-scale plants for ships, trains, mining and trucks by 2025, each costing $50 million to $150 million.


Ship owners started switching to lower-sulfur diesel from bunker in northwest Europe and North America because of national and international anti-pollution rules phased in since 2005. LNG cuts sulfur emissions by 90 percent to 95 percent and also releases less carbon dioxide and nitrogen oxide, according to DNV GL. Alternatives include burning low-sulfur diesel or installing equipment called scrubbers that clean exhaust.

Rising demand could drive fuel costs higher. While U.S. natural gas futures plunged 74 percent to $3.960 per million British thermal units from the record reached in 2005, prices will average $4 in 2015 and $4.25 in the longer term, Morgan Stanley estimates.

LNG ship fuel would cost about $800 a ton in the U.S., $1,000 a ton in Europe and $1,200 in Asia, according to estimates by New York-based shipbroker Poten & Partners Inc. That compares with global prices of $1,300 for an equivalent amount of diesel and $950 for fuel oil with scrubbers.

David Fuller's view

Natural gas is certainly well on its way to becoming the world¡¯s most important fuel, because of its availability, price, and considerably lower contribution to pollution.  

This is good news for the planet and also for real (inflation adjusted) energy costs over the long term.  What I find interesting is the price disparity shown in the last paragraph from Bloomberg's report above.  

It certainly highlights how important technology has been in lowering energy costs in the USA.  Other countries are not yet similarly empowered for various reasons.  Logically, they will catch up at some point but they currently also seem to lack the can-do dynamism which the USA has regained.  This inventive ability is certainly not restricted to shale gas and oil.  Technologically, my impression is that the USA now seems to be streaking ahead once again.  

I did not feel that was happening in the 1980s or 1990s.  Back then and probably even earlier when I think about it, many other developed countries, led by Japan and Germany, and even some developing nations at the time such as South Korea seemed to be catching up very quickly, and even surpassing the USA.  For a while, more recently, China seemed to be in that position, but it was mainly in terms of copying rather than inventing.  

I can remember quoting the brilliant Lee Kuan Yew early in this century, when as I recall he was talking about other countries catching up with the USA in so many fields.  I have not yet been able to find the quote but think he said the USA was only still leading in technology, and perhaps for not more than another 20 years.  

It sounded plausible at the time and Lee Kuan Yew was backing the trend.  However, all that appears to have changed in the last five to ten years.  Technologically, I would say the USA is once again well out in front, and extending its lead in many fields.  

However, do not take my word for it - you decide.  A major report, "Science and Engineering Indicators 2010", takes the opposite view.  It is discussed in this article: Asia Challenges U.S. Innovation Leadership, New Report Shows.

Much of their evidence seems to be based on Asia's vastly greater numbers of graduates in science and engineering, plus a big lead in green technology.  The education data is certainly impressive but does China's system provide the best entrepreneurial environment for those people?  I do not think it does.  

Culturally, when visiting Asia I would often hear the adage: ¡°The highest nail is hit the hardest.¡±  That environment inhibits individual flair. Geniuses can be very eccentric and they will be suppressed in a conformist and rigid culture.  The USA obviously has a much smaller population than the Asian region.  Yet it produces a comparatively small but very influential number of technological geniuses.  Perhaps even more importantly, the USA attracts gifted people from all over the world.  

Steve Jobs' biological father was a Syrian graduate student at the University of Wisconsin.  Another great contemporary inventor, Elon Musk, was born in South Africa and is now a naturalised American.  There are numerous other examples of phenomenally successful Americans who had at least one immigrant parent or were themselves immigrants seeking to join the USA¡¯s pluralistic society.  I think this is more important than the number of scientific graduates in a homogeneous country such as China.

Another major point made in the Asia Challenges link above is that China now dominates in the production of green technology equipment.  OK, but is that due to inventive genius?  Also, is it as important as the ability to extract vast quantities of natural gas from shale formations? I think not bug you decide.

Back to top