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What Is a Q-Max?

Maggie J. Hall
Maggie J. Hall

The Q-Max, also known as the Qatar Maximum, is a liquid natural gas tanker ship that delivers natural gas to countries all over the world. These massive vessels may be the largest sailing ships on the planet. The specially designed technology used to build the ships provides the most economical means of transporting the cargo while causing minimal disruption to the marine environment.

"Qatar" refers to the Qatar Gas Transport Company that employs the Q-Max ships for deliveries. "Maximum" means the ship is the maximum sized vessel capable of docking at liquid natural gas, or LNG terminals. The company reports the ship measurements as 1132 feet (345 meters) long, which is longer than three football fields lying end to end. The ship is 177 feet (53.8 meters) wide and 114 feet (34.7 meters) tall from the bottom of the boat to the top of the masthead. The height of the ship is comparable to that of a 20-story building. The vessel travels at speeds of up to 19.5 knots or 0.4 miles per hour (0.7 kilometers per hour).

Woman with hand on her hip
Woman with hand on her hip

Inside the hull, the Q-Max contains five large cargo areas. Each area measures 157 feet (48 meters) wide, 91 feet (28 meters) tall, and 190 feet (58 meters) long. The specially lined stainless steel/nickel alloy tanks contract and expand to accommodate the cargo. Each Q-Max ship can carry 9,400,000 cubic feet (266,000 cubic meters) of LNG. The company suggests that this amount of fuel is comparable to the amount required to power 70,000 U.S. homes for a year. The largest ship prior to the Q-Max, the Q-Flex, had a maximum capacity of 7,633,283 cubic feet (217,000 cubic meters).

The hull of each ship has a special silicon coating, which improves the performance and speed of the vessel, but also protects the marine environment from toxins. Each cargo tank also contains piping leading to the on-deck liquefaction plant. As the natural gas reverts to a gaseous state, the system traps the gas, reliquifies and returns the liquid back to the cargo tank. Two slow speed diesel engines, propellers and rudders run each Q-Max.

This type of engine is reportedly more thermally efficient and requires less fuel than older steam turbine engines. The ship supposedly requires 40% less energy with 30% fewer emissions. The Q-Max also has specially designed back-up generators, capable of running the ship and systems in the event of mechanical failure. These LNG tankers are equipped with state of the art fire fighting systems that employ foam and fog water for fire fighting without the need for carbon dioxide-based systems.

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