With IMO interim guidelines in place, there is now a solid case for methanol’s use as a marine fuel
Interest in methanol has surged since the IMO Maritime Safety Committee adopted interim guidelines for its use as a marine fuel in 2020, with Proman Shipping one of the shipowners leading the charge.
A subsidiary of the second-largest producer of methanol in the world, Proman Shipping is building four 49,900 dwt methanol dual-fuel tankers at China’s GSI Shipyard due in 2022, three for a joint venture with Stena Bulk, and the fourth for itself.
“I really think methanol is hard to beat as a ‘future-proof’ pathway fuel for the international shipping industry – helping to meet IMO greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions now and into the future,” Proman Shipping managing director Anita Gajadhar tells Marine Propulsion.
Ms Gajadhar says the guidelines allow the methanol industry to provide shipowners with the “necessary information to support their decision making when looking at low-carbon-emission alternative fuels and to give them confidence in the safety considerations in the use of methanol as a fuel.” She adds: “While many shipowners know about LNG as an alternative fuel, few were aware of methanol and the IMO’s acceptance of the product as a low-carbon marine fuel opens the doors for them to have an alternative option to LNG.”
Widely available, using grey methanol (produced from natural gas) as a marine fuel offers significant GHG emissions reductions compared to traditional marine fuels. Ms Gajadhar says its use virtually eliminates SOx and particulate matter, and cuts NOx by 60% and CO2 by 10-15%.
“IMO’s acceptance of methanol as a low-carbon marine fuel opens the doors for shipowners to have an alternative option to LNG”
Those in shipping that had not taken methanol seriously as a future fuel are now doing so, after Danish shipping giant AP Moller-Maersk announced in March it would launch of the first 2,000-TEU liner vessel to operate on carbon-neutral methanol by 2023. Plans call for the feeder ship to be dual-fuel powered, operating on standard very-low sulphur fuel oil, carbon-neutral e-methanol, or sustainable bio-methanol.
“One 2,000-TEU vessel will require approximately 25,000 MT of green methanol, demonstrating how quickly production from a 200,000-tonne bio-methanol plant can be consumed in the marine fuel pool, as vessel owners seek greener alternative fuels,” observes Ms Gajadhar.
To meet this growing demand, Ms Gajadhar says significant investment will be needed in green methanol plants in the coming years. “Proman is already active in this space, including with the Varennes Carbon Recycling in Québec, Canada, which will include one of the world’s largest waste-to-methanol plants,” she says.
Expectations are that annual global production of methanol and its renewable forms will grow fivefold over the next 30 years, according to a report previously cited by The Methanol Institute chief operating officer Chris Chatterton.
Worldwide annual production of conventional methanol nearly doubled over the last decade to reach about 98M tonnes in 2019 and is expected to grow to more than 120M tonnes by 2025 and 500M tonnes by 2050.
“Bio-methanol and e-methanol offer even higher carbon emission savings of over 90% and demand for these products will increase to meet 2050 IMO targets,” says Ms Gajadhar. But she notes, the challenge for the industry is that green products are more expensive to produce and do not presently enjoy the benefit of economies of scale, therefore these products also attract a premium price. She says: “In order to encourage adoption by more shipowners, the industry will need to consider the implementation of carbon taxes on fossil-based fuel in order to level the playing field for these products.”