Maersk’s order of the world’s first carbon-neutral methanol-fuelled container ship is likely to pave the way for the use of this fuel in the box ship industry
The 2,100-TEU feeder ship will be deployed in the Baltics and equipped with dual-engine technology enabling it to sail on either methanol, biofuels or very low sulphur fuel oil. The dual-fuel, low-speed, two-stroke MAN 6G50-LGIM main engine will be developed by MAN Energy Solutions and Hyundai Engine and Machinery, with methanol-capable auxiliary gensets by HiMSEN in collaboration with the shipbuilder and Maersk.
Maersk has signed a letter of intent for three 3,500-TEU methanol-fuelled box ships (including options) with Hyundai Mipo Dockyard, and its parent KSOE is expected to win an order to build a dozen 15,000-TEU methanol-fuelled container ships with the Danish shipping giant, according to Business Korea.
The use of methanol is fast gaining momentum in the box ship industry – in July this year MSC also showed support for its use after joining the Methanol Institute (MI) alongside Oldendorff Carriers. MI said MSC Group and Oldendorff join a “growing roster of shipping companies actively exploring the use of methanol as a marine fuel in preparation for an environment in which greenhouse gas emissions and carbon intensity will be subject to tighter regulatory control”.
As the world’s biggest and best-known container shipping lines support the use of methanol, other carriers are bound to sit up and take notice.
The interest being shown in methanol is underlined by MI chief executive Gregory Dolan, who said in a statement about MSC and Oldendorff joining the MI, “IMO regulation is driving change and the interest in methanol is growing very fast as a result, not least because it is one of only two available fuel choices for reducing emissions now.”
The benefits of green methanol are clear to see – using it as a marine fuel could lead to a CO2 emissions reduction of up to 80%.
A crucial factor is that regulation has started to be developed for the deployment of methanol as a marine fuel. The adoption in November 2020 of IMO Interim Guidelines for the Safety of Ships Using Methyl/Ethyl Alcohol as Fuel cover considerations for ship design and arrangement, fuel containment system, materials, pipe design, bunkering, fuel supply, power generation, fire safety, explosion prevention, hazard area classification, ventilation, electrical installations, control systems, crew training and operations.
DNV executive vice president for business development Jan Olaf Probst has hailed these interim guidelines as a “huge step forward”. Interim guidelines mean that it is easier to design a vessel as opposed to having to use the alternative design route. The guidelines are a first step to green methanol being regulated.
Of course, a crucial factor in the use of methanol is ensuring there is enough available. Unlike other alternative fuels, such biofuels, where substantially more needs to be invested in boosting supply, Methanol Institute chief operating officer Chris Chatterton recently said that annual global production of methanol and its renewable forms will grow fivefold over the next 30 years.
It is also available at more than 85 of the top 100 ports worldwide, e1 Marine managing director Stuart Crawford notes. The company has developed a technology that combines methanol with a PEM fuel cell, which is something that container feeders could benefit from, as e1 believes that this is “the missing link for decarbonising inland shipping”.
While there are challenges, as there are with using any alternative fuel, where MSC and Maersk lead, other box ship operators will surely follow.
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