Wide availability, easy handling and storage and recent adoption of IMO interim guidelines as a marine fuel have all increased methanol’s attractiveness to shipowners as a pathway to decarbonisation
When it comes to creating a pathway to decarbonisation, Methanex director, market development, EMEA Ayça Yalçin believes a compelling case can be made for methanol as a marine fuel. “Methanol is a clean burning fuel with low emissions and biodegrades rapidly in water,” said Ms Yalçin during Riviera Maritime Media’s Methanol: the simple facts webinar. “All 11 of our methanol-powered vessels can meet IMO’s SOx, EEDI and particulate matter emission regulations. And our second generation vessels, which entered service in 2019, can meet IMO’s (Tier III) NOx requirements without after treatment – this means a significant savings in capital investment.”
Waterfront Shipping, a wholly owned subsidiary of Methanex, operates the world’s largest fleet of methanol-powered dual fuel tankers. As a marine fuel, methanol can reduce in-sector CO2 emissions by up to 15% when compared to conventional marine fuels.
In November, Waterfront Shipping made a further commitment to methanol, ordering eight, 49,999-dwt tankers from South Korea’s Hyundai Mipo Dockyard for delivery between 2021 and 2023. Designed with the MAN B&W two-stroke, dual-fuel ME-LGIM engines, the vessels will be capable of seamlessly switching between operating on methanol, heavy fuel oil (HFO), marine diesel oil (MDO) or marine gas oil (MGO). When operating on methanol, the engine uses HFO, MDO or MGO as a pilot fuel, significantly reducing emissions of NOx , SOx, CO2 and PM.
Besides operational experience, key technical pieces of the puzzle are falling into place which could help shipowners take a closer look at methanol. Among these is the adoption of interim guidelines by IMO’s Maritime Safety Committee on the use of methanol as a marine fuel, and the first bunkering technical reference for methanol published by The Methanol Institute and Lloyd’s Register.
Fuel availability – always a critical consideration in the viability of a low-carbon fuel – is not a problem for methanol, as Ms Yalçin pointed out: “Methanol is one of the world’s most traded chemicals and is available at top ports worldwide through existing infrastructure. What does that mean for bunkering? Methanol has simple and similar bunkering guidelines and safety standards as conventional marine fuels. And the existing onshore storage can easily be used with only minor modifications.”
“Adopting dual-fuel engine technology allows shipowners to hedge risk against fuel availability and prices”
In addressing opex and capex, Ms Yalçin highlighted the fuel’s simple storage and handling requirements – in sharp contrast to other alternative fuels like LNG. “Methanol is liquid at ambient temperatures and pressures. So, it’s a lot less complicated to handle; you don’t need highly pressurised tanks and certain temperatures to transport and store methanol, which makes the incremental cost to build new or convert an existing vessel less than other alternative fuel conversions.”
Adopting dual-fuel engine technology, she contended, allows shipowners to hedge risk against fuel availability, changing market conditions and fluctuating fuel prices.
“All this combined translates into a solid payback and business case for methanol,” said Ms Yalçin.
While commercially proven in four-stroke and two-stroke engine technology, what is the future green pathway of methanol? “Is methanol capable of handling the IMO 2050 decarbonisation goals?” said Ms Yalçin. “Methanol is commonly produced on a commercial scale from natural gas. However, it can also be produced from many renewable sources like biomass and recycled CO2 with renewable electricity. And these have a high potential to reduce CO2 emissions significantly.”