Despite being toxic and flammable, methanol is seen by many as a key fuel to power shipping into the new decade
Hamburg’s SAL Heavy Lift has introduced a new emissions-reducing, hydrogen and methanol-based technology called FS Marine following four years of trials.
The group announced in early December that its Trina, a Type 176 vessel, will become the first of six ships to be retrofitted with the technology in a multi-million-euro project. One of the main attractions of the system is that it works with currently available low-sulphur fuels, including LNG.
Additionally, the technology provides a use for methanol, an alternative fuel that IMO and other organisations see as vital if the industry is to meet tougher anti-pollution targets after 2030. The International Transport Forum, a division of the OECD, also considers methanol a fuel that shipowners should consider in the near future.
“Advanced biofuels are already available, albeit in limited quantities,” the forum reported in November in a study entitled On course towards carbon-neutral shipping? “Gradually they should be complemented by other natural or synthetic fuels such as hydrogen, methanol and ammonia.”
Despite Heavy Lift’s adoption of FS Marine, there is unlikely to be a rush to embrace methanol. As Lloyds Global Marine Fuel Trends 2030 noted: “Methanol does not appear in the fuel mix in any considerable quantities by 2030.” However the report added that methanol may be better suited to niche markets rather than to the four main ship types.
There is however no doubting methanol’s virtues as a fuel. As Lloyds notes, it has lower carbon content on a mass basis and good compatibility with dual-fuel engines. Also, as classification society Bureau Veritas noted in an analysis in November, methanol (and ethanol) offers an alternative to LNG and has similar profiles to LPG. But, like most of the newer fuels, there is not enough bunkering infrastructure and, because of the toxic and flammable nature of the chemical, a methanol-fuelled ship needs to be designed and operated with special care.
Meantime, the decision to install FS Marine, which was developed by Germany’s FuelSave, was influenced by SAL Heavy Lift chief operating officer Justin Archard’s antipathy to scrubbers. As he wrote in an open letter ahead of the sulphur cap, both open and closed-loop scrubbers “produce a physical toxic by-product that must be collected on board and then disposed of either at sea at a cost in port.”
SAL Heavy Lift, which sees itself as a green-tech frontrunner, says: “The injection technology developed by FuelSave paves the way for making shipping greener and more energy-efficient.” Before taking the plunge, SAL Heavy Lift worked with half a dozen stakeholders, including MAN Energy Solutions.
FuelSave describes its technology as an “intelligently controlled hydrogen synthetic gas generator and injector.” Trials showed that the savings on fuel consumption were put at 10-15%, while emissions fell by 10-15% for CO2 and 30-80% for NOx. Maintenance and repair costs were down, with lubrication costs slashed by 33% while the period between oil changes tripled, from 500 to over 1,500 hours.
The nub of the solution is improved combustion. A hydrogen-based synthetic gas is injected with methanol into the engine. Consequently, ignition occurs sooner and the fuel is burned more completely. A water methanol injection process also reduces the operating temperature of the heat-bearing parts of the combustion process, giving a longer engine life. Classification society DNV GL backs these claims, reporting less soot is emitted and noting reduced wear and tear to the engine.
The payback period for FSMarine is put at three years.