February 28 - By Colum Murphy at Breakbulk China in Shanghai

GE Energy predicts greater use of modularisation to transport breakbulk cargoes, despite the present lull due to the global economic downturn.

GE Energy senior global commodity leader Alex Strogen said a growing number of companies, including more players in the oil and gas industry, stood to benefit from modularization, especially as they expand business activities to more remote sites. He said once the economy picks back up there could be an active increase in the use of modularisation.

Modularised units could be up to 15 percent more expensive to build than field-erected units. This was because modules were designed to withstand the rigors of ocean transportation necessitating increased use of costly structural steel, Strogen explained. However, overall project costs tended to be lower due to reduced construction costs in the field and shorter construction schedules, he added.

Self-propelled modular transporters, the multi-axle trailers used to transport heavy lift cargo, played a critical role. "Without them, modularisation would not be possible," he said. In the future there would be an increased need for such trailers, but again the economic situation meant that currently there were many expensive SPMTs "sitting around not working".

GE Energy expected to see greater use of modularisation in its business activities in Southeast Asia and the Middle East. "We don't have anything on the books right now, but those would be areas that would be high potential candidates for modularization," Strogen noted. He said GE Energy chief executive Jeff Immelt saw China as a "wonderful opportunity" for the company for infrastructure and energy projects, but said Vietnam also offered some positive growth prospects, especially in the electric-power generation projects.

In India, GE Energy had worked with Reliance Industries on some power projects. "As the [Indian] population becomes wealthier and therefore has a greater need for power, there will be opportunities for more power projects," he said.

Atlanta-based GE Energy is a technology provider across the energy industry. Strogen was speaking ahead of the first Breakbulk China Transportation Conference and Exhibition, which kicks off on Wednesday in the city that is home to the world's busiest port.

Organisers said 3,500 conference attendees and more than 100 exhibitors had registered for the event. Tuesday was designated as "education day" aimed primarily at students from local universities and included a career fair with representatives from the breakbulk industry.