The European Commission has approved an industry-first tugboat project to test methanol as an alternative, sustainable fuel source
Based on the commission’s approval, Port of Antwerp is set to begin converting a tugboat for methanol-fuelled propulsion.
The project will produce the world’s first methanol tug (methatug) as part of the European Union-funded Fastwater scheme, which aims to demonstrate the feasibility of methanol as a sustainable marine fuel.
Port of Antwerp said the methatug project will help it take another important step in its transition to becoming a sustainable and CO2-neutral port.
Amendments to the Central Commission for Navigation on the Rhine’s (CCNR) regulations, which had previously forbidden the use of methanol as a marine fuel, enabled the project to progress.
The methatug project was submitted to CESNI, the European committee that administers overall standards for inland navigation, to receive the necessary dispensation from these regulations, which cover all Rhine-based inland navigation craft.
The clearance process, which took 18 months of detailed negotiations, was finally agreed by the European Commission early in 2021, and the tug is now expected be operational in Q1 2022.
Port of Antwerp will supply a suitable tugboat for the conversion project and Anglo Belgian Corp is responsible for converting the engine and installing the methanol tanks and pipework, as statement from the port said.
“Together with our partners, we are constantly looking for innovative applications and opportunities for the transition to alternative and renewable energy sources,” said Port of Antwerp chief executive Jacques Vandermeiren.
“Methatug is a further, and also an important, step in the transition towards a sustainable and CO2-neutral port that has enabled us to overcome a variety of technical and regulatory challenges.”
Belgian engineering company, Multi, carried out the feasibility study for the project and Swedish shipbuilder, Scandinaos, designed the vessel’s modifications. German company, Heinzmann, is adapting the fuel injectors.
“We are paving the way and hope to be an example and a source of inspiration for other ports,” said Mr Vandermeiren.
The Fastwater programme beind the methatug project was set up by a group of European maritime research and technology leaders, including Port of Antwerp.
This consortium aims to demonstrate the feasibility of renewable methanol as a future-proof fuel for carbon-neutral shipping.
The methatug development is being funded by the European research and innovation programme, Horizon 2020.
CESNI secretariat Benjamin Boyer was enthusiastic about the methatug retrofit project.
“We look forward to learning from this experience,” he said.
“Indeed, it would be a major contribution to the ongoing regulatory work to allow methanol as fuel and then contribute to the energy transition of inland navigation,” Mr Boyer added.
Port of Antwerp is also involved in testing hydrogen as a fuel on tugboats as it is involved in the hydrotug project, along with CMB.Tech and ABC.
This hydrogen-fuelled vessel will have 65 tonnes of bollard pull. It will have two 2-MW medium-speed engines and 400 kg of compressed hydrogen storage.
“Just like with the hydrotug, this project confirms our pioneering role in the field of energy transition,” said Port of Antwerp alderwoman Annick De Ridder.
“The ecosystem of the Antwerp port platform forms an ideal, large-scale testing ground for a project of this type,” she said.
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