First “very large ethane carrier” ships ethane out of Houston

The first massive vessel ever classified as a “very large ethane carrier” began shipping ethane from a Houston terminal last week en route to India.

The new cargo destination is further evidence of Texas shale gas helping to fuel the rise of the middle class in heavily populated developing nations like India. The ethane is ultimately used, in most cases, to make plastics.

The Ethane Crystal vessel commissioned by Mumbai-based Reliance Industries and build by Samsung Heavy Industries is carrying ethane from Houston-based Enterprise Products Partners new terminal at Morgan’s Point. The world’s largest ethane export terminal opened this fall.

The American Bureau of Shipping ship classification society dubbed the Ethane Crystal the world’s first Very Large Ethane Carrier, or VLEC, classified vessel. It’s the first of six such vessels being built through 2017. The second, the Ethane Emerald, was completed earlier in December.

The new VLEC vessels carry more than three times as much ethane as the initial ships that began exporting ethane from the terminal in September. The Ethane Crystal can ship up to 87,000 cubic meters of ethane at a time. Ethane is derived from natural gas and is used primarily to make the chemical ethylene, the primary building block of most plastics. The ethane gas is liquefied and chilled below negative 100 degrees for transport.

The first vessels exporting ethane from the new terminal were so-called dragon class ships that carry up to 27,500 cubic meters of ethane. This year marked the first time U.S. natural gas was exported to Europe, both in ethane and in liquefied natural gas form.