Alfa Laval will soon conduct major tests of methanol as a marine fuel at the company’s Test & Training Centre in Aalborg, Denmark
As part of a research project funded by Danish Energy Technology Development and Demonstration Program (EUDP) the company is working with MAN Energy Solutions among other partners to explore the possibility of running the centre’s four-stroke, 2-MW diesel engine on methanol – without modifications or another pilot fuel.
The testing is the third stage since the initiation of the EUDP-funded methanol project two years ago. In addition to Alfa Laval and MAN, the consortium includes the Danish Technological Institute (DTI), Technical University of Denmark (DTU) and biofuel producer Nordic Green.
Alfa Laval Marine Division vice president technology department Lars Skytte Jørgensen said “This necessitates two fuel lines and different types of fuel tanks on board. If methanol from renewable sources could be burned directly in standard compression engines, it would offer a shortcut to carbon-neutral shipping.”
The partners said burning methanol in an unmodified diesel engine requires new engine software, which must be developed through engine testing and work with combustion modelling.
Early tests of the concept on smaller engines at the Danish Technological Institute and later the Technical University of Denmark showed promising results leading to a small-scale experiment with methanol at the Alfa Laval Test & Training Centre, using a single cylinder of the centre’s 2-MW marine engine.
Mr Jørgensen said “We were excited at just how well the one-cylinder experiment ran.” Adding, “And now we are ready to proceed with wider testing.”
The Aalborg centre is equipped with tanks and ancillary equipment for working with biofuels. The tanks have been readied for an exceptional delivery from Nordic Green, who supplied the green methanol in March.
“We produce our methanol from waste sources instead of new biomass,” said Nordic Green chief executive Bo Gleerup. “This means the coming combustion tests will be neutral in CO2 impact – exactly as the operation of tomorrow’s vessels needs to be.”
When the fuel arrives, the centre will determine how to handle it at scale. Methanol is a liquid at room temperature and can be stored in unpressurised tanks but a flashpoint (7°C) makes it highly volatile – despite the challenge of igniting it through compression. After working out the handling practicalities, broader tests of methanol in the unmodified engine will commence in April.
Alfa Laval’s scope, while excluding the engine itself, includes many applications that will be influenced by future fuels. The company believes the marine fuel landscape will shift from the present emphasis on LNG to methanol and then renewable ammonia. The current project has the engine in focus and provides a practical catalyst for wider development work at the centre.
With regard to new fuels, Mr Jørgensen said “our close work with engine makers leads us to new ideas and opportunities. A good example is Alfa Laval PureCool, our solution for reducing methane slip from LNG engines, which was developed in partnership with WinGD. Our boilers and other existing products will also be used with methanol, so we need to do the same fuel homework we did with LNG.”
“We were investigating LNG combustion at the Alfa Laval Test & Training Centre long before the LNG market began moving in earnest. Understanding the fuel and how it works in depth is of huge importance before bringing anything to market. The same will be true for methanol and ammonia.”
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