Methanol Institute’s Singapore chief operating officer Chris Chatterton explains why this fuel choice has the infrastructure and environmental credentials to make it a long-term viable source of marine propulsion
Methanol is already used in numerous land-based applications, including passenger vehicles, heavy-duty trucks, buses, fuel-cell boilers and even cookstoves. Its popularity stems from the fact that it is simply produced, cost effective and can be safely handled with existing infrastructure.
As methanol is a hydrogen-enriched oxygenated fuel it is also very clean burning, with superior combustion characteristics; that applies to both two- and four-stroke marine diesel internal combustion engines. It continues to be blended in gasoline and diesel around the world for this very reason.
The IMF’s IGF code for methanol as a marine fuel was confirmed last year and this clearly established the rules of the game, allowing methanol to be safely adopted by vessel owners and operators.
Currently, producing bio or renewable methanol alternative fuels generally has fewer economically viable paths. This is because, to date, there has been little in the way of financially driven policy incentive to do so. There are some waste streams available which can be cost competitive if produced at scale, mixing up with, for example, biofuels in Europe.
The fact remains however that methanol has been produced for centuries from biomass, and we are now at a stage where numerous technological pathways are enabling the production of either bio or renewable methanol practically anywhere – with or without carbon capture utilisation and storage technology – as a net zero carbon fuel.
Producing, transporting and handling low flashpoint fuels requires a specific infrastructure. But as methanol is a liquid at ambient temperature its use allows for a greater repurposing of existing infrastructure to support it as a fuel in marine applications. This means it already has a very high availability and utility on a global basis. This is also partially due to methanol’s other core market as a petrochemical feedstock, where it has been traded internationally for over 50 years on board ocean-going vessels.
As such, we believe that addressing the infrastructure challenges around the bunkering of alternative fuels is greatly simplified with methanol, as most existing infrastructure can either be repurposed or added with minimal investment.
As it is a liquid at ambient temperature, methanol can be bunkered in a process quite similar to bunkering distillate fuels. This has a positive impact on training and physical delivery, which is simplified as a consequence and therefore more efficient and cost competitive.
Lloyd’s Register recently completed a methanol bunkering technical reference, which will be released shortly. It provides a hands-on guide to the physical bunkering process, as well as the required checklists for different applications of bunkering.
From a price perspective, methanol is appealing. Producing alternative marine fuels can largely be achieved with off-the-shelf technology, whether liquids or gas. The added efficiency with methanol however stems from its liquid at ambient temperature characteristic, which greatly simplifies logistics and onboard handling. As noted, the infrastructure is in many cases already available too.
On an energy-equivalent basis, we need to combust approximately twice as much methanol to compensate for the lower energy density. However, methanol has largely been competitive with MGO over the past five years and blending bio or renewable methanol into fuel oil, or even conventional methanol, is already happening. This means organisations can meet or exceed their ESG requirements, technically, environmentally and economically.