The Prelude FLNG plant will be permanently moored at the gas field, avoiding the need for major onshore works

Huge floating plants open up gas reserves for Asia

Floating liquefied natural gas factories are being planned across Asia in an attempt to cut production costs.

Hydrocarbon facilities have been operating on-board ships for several years, but these FLNG plants, located on super-ships bigger than aircraft carriers, will be the first capable of liquefying gas while at sea, by chilling it to -160°C.

While the technology has so far been unproven, around 30 new FLNG projects are currently in the works globally, including 14 in the US and six in Canada. In Asia Pacific, Shell is developing its Abadi factory off Indonesia, Woodside Petroleum has its Browse floating gas production plant planned for offshore Australia, and Malaysia’s state-run Petroliam Nasional Bhd (Petronas) is developing two projects.

The most widely anticipated of these projects is the Prelude FLNG led by Royal Dutch Shell, expected to be the largest floating structure ever built. Nearly 500m long and 75m wide, Prelude will have a production capacity of 3.6 million tonnes of LNG a year, which would meet the annual gas demand of a city the size of Hong Kong.

The $12bn (£7bn) facility is being built by Samsung Heavy Industries in Geoje, South Korea, and will be stationed in the East Browse Basin off Western Australia’s Kimberley coast. Construction is expected to be completed in 2016 and the project will then operate for 25 years.

FLNGs remove the need for subsea pipelines transporting natural gas from a drilled gas well to be liquefied at a facility onshore. Instead, the Prelude would enable Shell to transfer the LNG and by-products directly to carrier ships for transport to customers, saving time and costs.

FLNGs moving across multiple locations can also allow gas resources to be developed from more remote fields, again making development cheaper and faster as well as being more flexible.

Asian shipyards are also financially benefitting from the development of FLNGs, including South Korean shipyards owned by Hyundai Heavy Industries, Samsung Heavy Industries, and Daewoo Shipbuilding and Marine Engineering Company.

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