Methanol as a marine fuel received an enormous boost following AP Møller-Maersk’s recent announcement that it would build the first carbon-neutral ship powered by e-methanol or bio-methanol by 2023
The container ship giant’s announcement combined with IMO Maritime Safety Committee’s interim guidelines on using methanol as a marine fuel have gained widespread market attention as shipowners look for the best commercial options for their path to decarbonisation. While one flavour of alternative fuel will not fit everyone – it is clearly going to be a multi-alternative fuel future – one of the checklist items that ship operators look for is availability.
When it comes to methanol and its renewable forms, expectations are that annual global production will grow fivefold over the next 30 years, according to The Methanol Institute chief operating officer Chris Chatterton.
“The worldwide annual production of conventional methanol nearly doubled over the last decade to reach about 98M tonnes (mt) in 2019 and is expected to grow to more than 120 mt by 2025 and 500 mt by 2050,” said Mr Chatteron.
He points to data revealed in the recent report by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) and The Methanol Institute, Innovation Outlook: Renewable Methanol.
Mr Chatterton said the report applies its Transforming Energy Scenario (TES) which “describes an ambitious, yet realistic, energy transformation pathway based largely on renewable energy sources and steadily improved energy efficiency.”
According to TES assumptions, IRENA estimates that by 2050 the future production of methanol could be comprised as follows: methanol from biomass (biomethanol): 135 mt, methanol from green hydrogen and captured CO2 (renewable methanol): 250 mt and methanol from fossil fuels: 115 mt.
“In the shorter term, there are a number of leading global energy producers which are now turning their attention to the production of carbon-neutral fuels and chemicals,” said Mr Chatterton. “The technology for such products is well understood, it is becoming more efficient and incorporating a broader range of feedstocks in true circular fashion.
“This means that such fuel can be produced practically anywhere and not only in ‘hydrocarbon-leveraged’ countries. Of the projects recently announced, it appears that each one is consecutively larger than the last, so they are now scaling up, which means they will soon be more competitive,” he said.
Regarding pricing, Mr Chatterton said conventionally produced methanol has “a close price parity to low sulphur oil over time and certainly on the basis of energy equivalence. Additional production capacity to include conventional, bio and renewable forms, could have the tendency to slightly lower logistics costs – mainly for transportation and storage.”
He adds that methanol is found in over 100 ports and is very efficiently transported and stored, leading to most of the supply chain required to cost efficiently provide it as a ship bunker already in place.
Online energy platform Powerzeek’s founder and chief executive Dag Lilletvedt noted an uptick in interest in methanol, which was recently added to the platform. “We are very pleased with the interest received in such short time,” said Mr Lilletvedt. “Since opening up for methanol on the Powerzeek Energy Platform two weeks ago, we have had methanol suppliers sign up with a total capacity of around 17.5 mt, with production facilities in eight different countries and with marketing and logistics support in Europe, North America, South America, Asia Pacific and Middle East.”
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