The time for waiting on decarbonisation has long passed, and it is time for the industry to throw its weight behind methanol and other future fuels, writes Stena Bulk chief executive and president Erik Hånell
Only a few weeks ago, IMO’s Marine Environment Protection Committee convened for their latest meeting to discuss marine environmental issues. The meeting kicked off with a warning from IMO secretary-general Kitack Lim that “failure is not an option” for shipping when tackling the decarbonisation challenge.
Meanwhile, across the English Channel from IMO’s London headquarters, moves from the European Union to bring shipping within its Emissions Trading Scheme alongside a package of other measures under its ‘Fit for 55’ plan have also captured industry media attention.
Between IMO and the EU – and notwithstanding directives other nations like the US might mandate on shipping’s environmental impact – it is clear that the time for waiting on decarbonisation has long passed.
It is well understood there is no one single solution to the decarbonisation challenge. But it is also clear that driving progress on future fuels is what will unlock the greatest impact on shipping’s environmental footprint. The truth is that our industry, which is used to using a small range of commodity fuels, is about to see its bunker market expand in complexity as new low- or zero-carbon solutions come onto the market.
It therefore falls on owners and operators to play their part in supporting the scaling up of these future fuels.
One of the exciting solutions Stena Bulk is exploring is the prospect of methanol as a low-carbon marine fuel. There are lots of reasons to be optimistic about what widespread use of methanol could mean for shipping.
Methanol has several environmental benefits in that it is biodegradable and reduces local emissions such as NOX and SOX dramatically. With increasingly efficient production methods, natural gas-derived methanol also has the potential to reduce CO2 emissions to some extent compared with conventional fuels.
However, what makes methanol even more promising is that it has the potential to be a carbon-neutral fuel in the future if it is created sustainably using waste, sustainable biomass or renewable electricity.
Given the urgency to scale up future fuels – and realising that one day we will operate in a market that uses renewable fuel sources – it is only right to start to push the boundaries on what is possible.
At the same time, the global push for low-carbon energy sources will bring methanol into the wider macroeconomic context. Already around 70M tonnes of methanol are produced each year – an amount that is expected to grow significantly in the coming years – creating an opportunity for shipping to respond to the increased demand for transportation of the chemical.
This belief in the role that methanol will play in the future is why, in 2019, Stena Bulk announced its joint venture partnership with Proman, the world’s second-largest methanol producer.
The partnership underlines the momentum behind methanol as one of the most viable and low-emissions future marine fuels. It will also go some distance to making methanol more readily available as a marine fuel for third-party shipping companies. Incredibly, methanol is already available at over 120 ports worldwide, including at all major bunkering hubs. But increasing demand for the chemical will require sustainable transportation solutions to evolve in tandem.
That is why the joint venture enterprise will initially kick off with the construction and operation of three methanol-carrying and powered IMOIIMeMax, 49,900-dwt vessels: Stena Pro Patria, Stena Pro Mare, and Stena Prosperous.
Stena Pro Patria will be the first of these vessels to enter the water, in early 2022. Steel cutting for Stena Pro Patria began in January this year at Guangzhou Shipyard International in China.
We have designed these vessels not only to run on methanol, but also to incorporate design and technical improvements that push the envelope for fuel efficiency, including continually controlled combustion, optimised tuning, redesigned and aerodynamic hull lines, as well as an energy shaft generator, reducing fuel consumption and helping to meet strict emissions criteria.
Each vessel will incorporate latest-generation MAN dual-fuel engines with a new water and fuel emulsion technology that significantly reduces NOx emissions.
All of the new IMOIIMeMax vessels will use approximately 12,500 tonnes of methanol as fuel per year, which will significantly reduce the volume of carbon and greenhouse gas emissions resulting from their commercial operations.
Throwing our weight behind methanol does not mean we are ignoring other future fuels. Given the uncertainty of the future, it is only sensible to innovate and champion multiple pathways, understanding that some of them will not reach full market fruition. This approach is based on understanding the importance of innovation – and the difference between entrepreneurialism and risk in the maritime sector.
The time to act on future fuels is already here. Technological investment in new fuel solutions and scaling them up beyond the trial phase is progressive and commercially sensible against the backdrop of a radically changing maritime sector. Getting ahead of the curve now will only drive commercial success in the future, future-proofing fleets, supporting global demand and ultimately moving the dial on maritime decarbonisation.
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