Methanol-fuelled tankers are now entering their third generation, but IMO’s delay in adding the fuel to the approved list has slowed the pace of wider adoption compared to LNG. Given the third generation increasing parity in opex and capex, more owners are likely to put methanol at the top of the retrofit list
In the Riviera Maritime Media webinar, The case methanol-fuelled tankers, Marinvest chief executive Patrick Mossberg, Methanol Institute chief operating officer Chris Chatterton, and Wärtsilä general manager, sales, retrofit projects Toni Stojcevski discussed the advantages of methanol as a marine fuel.
The Methanol Institute, along with INTERTANKO , were the supporting organisations of the webinar.
The aim of the webinar was to expand knowledge of methanol as a marine fuel for tankers and there was a high level on interest in the subject. In a poll, delegates were asked to choose an alternative fuel today for a newbuilding, answering LNG 43%, methanol 37%, LPG 10%, non-conventional biodiesel 6%, ammonia 4%.
Mr Chatterton gave an overview of the current situation of methanol as a marine fuel. He said, “It’s worth noting IMO only approved methanol for inclusion in the interim guidelines for low-flashpoint fuels in November 2020.” This means that while methanol is well understood and is widely used as a transportation fuel globally, shipping has been much slower to recognise the advantages.
But that is changing. “Shipowners, ports, and flag states are beginning to consider methanol as not only a suitable IMO 2020-compliant fuel, but as a fuel that can legitimately take internal combustion engines into the future and additionally support future technology platforms such as fuel cells and hybrid systems, as an efficient energy carrier," said Mr Chatterton.
He added, “It is also important to keep in mind there are six greenhouse gases as defined by IMO, as well as an additional three pollutants, all of which methanol can substantially reduce, to deliver a considerable net greenhouse gas reduction in existing vessels as a retrofit, or as a newbuilding.”
The Methanol Institute has worked with Lloyd’s Register to produce a bunkering technical reference and a key milestone was passed with the first barge-to-ship bunkering of a methanol-fuelled tanker.
Mr Mossberg was on hand to talk about the practical experience of running methanol-powered MR tankers. Marinvest operates four methanol dual-fuel tankers which have over 40,000 hours of operation without stoppages or incidents. “It is a very attractive fuel for marine usage,” said Mr Mossberg.
“We have been engaged in methanol dual fuel since 2010. And we feel confident in saying we are a leader in experience on this technology,” he said. “Methanol is an optimal hydrogen carrier. What does that mean? Well, it means methanol is more hydrogen rich than compressed hydrogen itself. With methanol, you get the hydrogen in a stable liquid form. But without the hydrogen gas problems and costs,” he said.
He proceeded to list the properties of methanol: stable at ambient temperatures, easy to store, water solvent, easy to reduce NOx with water blending, and it is widely available from a range of sources. As it is a widely used feedstock in industry, there is a proven infrastructure already in place.
He added, “Methanol offers better optionality. Oil and gas majors would love to create a lock-in and dependency for all of us. Low gas (LNG) prices now but once locked-in and the distribution infrastructure is fully localised, you will be left with a long-term asset and long-term dependency”, he said.
If delegates found the methanol case for tankers convincing, what is involved in a methanol fuel retrofit installation? Mr Stojcevski explained the process through a case study of the large cruise ferry Stena Germanica, which was converted to methanol fuel in 2015. He commenced by pointing out that given the expected life expectancy of a ship, a vessel built today will still be operating in 2050, but with a 70% reduction in emissions.
In a poll, delegates were asked: Will we use a different fuel type to fuel our existing vessels within the next 5 years? 35% Yes. We will switch to a fuel type for our fleet within the next five years; 30% No. We will switch but not in five years; 19% We are undecided; 14% We will sell our fleet within the next five years and our newbuildings will reflect our next-generation fuel choices; 2% No. We have already made our switch.
Wärtsilä has been studying methanol as a fuel for some time. “We (Wärtsilä) have invested around 50,000 developmental engineering hours in methanol. There is a great deal of accumulated knowledge through both teething problems, redesigns and developments with the Stena Germanica (conversion), which has been in operation for six years,” said Mr Stojcevski.
He added, “This was the first ship installation operating on methanol, and it is still operating without a single day of commercial operation lost.”
One of the key factors in the development of the methanol-fuel conversion of Stena Germanica is the engine uses the diesel combustion principle and can switch seamlessly between diesel and methanol.
The conversion was relatively simple. “For the conversion, we utilised the existing diesel pump from the engine and added another methanol fuel supply to this injector by high-pressure pump. There is a nitrogen generator used both for blanketing on the tank and for purging and flushing out methanol from the (fuel) rails and systems,” said Mr Stojcevski.
“We also have an oil unit we use for sealing and control oil. We use sealing oil inside the injector because of the high pressure of the methanol. After the operation is stopped, the methanol is flushed and returned to the methanol tank and can be used for next operation,” he added.
The methanol conversion has resulted in a 60% lowering of NOx emissions when burning methanol, and less smoke. The thermic load on the engine is lower and efficiency has increased without a reduction in output or load response.
Reductions in power and load response are EEXI issues, too. In a poll: Which of the following implications do you find most realistic considering EEXI compliance for existing vessels? 38% responded with fuel change, 32% chose power limitations, 24% efficiency upgrades and 6% scrapping.
Wärtsilä is currently developing a methanol version of the well-known Wärtsilä 32 marine engine and conversion is available. This engine is available in straight six to V-16 and is used in MR tankers as a main engine and an auxiliary engine in larger tankers.
Mr Stojcevski noted there are around 100 Wärtsilä 32 marine engine in operation and conversion will be available for 2023. This in response to a delegate’s question, conversion to methanol dual fuel takes around a week, if the necessary preparations are done.
The case for methanol-fuelled tankers webinar revealed the many advantages to shipowners and operators to meet the future greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets, but how will charterers react? In a poll: In conversation, charterers have confirmed they will accept higher rates if a lower carbon footprint can be demonstrated. 42%, charterers have hinted at it; 40% honestly, it has not come up; 14% yes, (charterers) have confirmed it; 4% (charterers) have ruled it.
But this might not even be an issue if there is no significant increase in capex or opex that needs to clawed back from charterers. According to Mr Mossberg, “We (Marinvest) see the dual-fuel functionality free of charge. How come? First, the investment is not that great if you compare it to LNG or LPG. It is substantially lower - about a fourth to a third. Then, as we are now able to mix methanol with water, we do not need any after gas treatment, so we can avoid the ECR and SCR totally, which results in great savings, down to a capex of closer to 15% over a conventional engine,” he said.
He continued, “So how do we recoup the last 15%? Well, as we do not need to buy and run on urea, when we are in tier three zones, we make a substantial saving each day. Net present valuing that results in a methanol-powered engine for the same price as a conventional engine today,” he said.
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