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Transition Fuel in Shipping - Methanol and LNG as a path to a Greener Industry

Updated: Jun 29, 2023





EMISSIONS LANDSCAPE IN SHIPPING SET BY IMO


The International Maritime Organization (IMO) is a specialized agency of the United Nations responsible for regulating international shipping. The IMO has set ambitious targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from ships, which are responsible for approximately 2.5% of global emissions. To achieve these targets, the shipping industry is exploring alternative fuels, also known as transition fuels, that can help reduce emissions while maintaining the efficiency and safety of ships.


Transition fuels include a range of options such as liquefied natural gas (LNG), methanol, hydrogen, and biofuels. These fuels offer significant environmental benefits compared to conventional fossil fuels, including lower emissions of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and particulate matter.


The transition to alternative fuels is crucial for the shipping industry to meet the IMO's emissions reduction targets and to comply with increasingly stringent environmental regulations. As the world continues to focus on reducing greenhouse gas emissions and addressing the impacts of climate change, the shipping industry must play its part by transitioning to cleaner and more sustainable fuels. The development and adoption of transition fuels will be a critical step towards achieving a more sustainable and carbon-neutral future for shipping.


METHANOL


Methanol, a colorless liquid, has been used as a fuel in various industries for several decades. In recent years, the use of methanol as a marine fuel has gained significant attention. Methanol-powered ships offer a sustainable alternative to conventional fossil fuel-powered vessels, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution. In this article, we will discuss methanol as a marine fuel and its benefits and challenges.

Methanol is a versatile fuel that can be produced from a variety of feedstocks, including natural gas, coal, and renewable sources such as biomass. Methanol has a high energy density, similar to diesel, and can be used in engines designed for diesel fuel with some modifications. Methanol is also easier to handle than other fuels like liquefied natural gas (LNG) and does not require expensive storage and transportation infrastructure.


Methanol as a marine fuel has been in use for several years. In 2016, the world's first methanol-powered tanker, the Ternsund, was launched by Swedish shipping company Terntank. The vessel was designed to meet the latest emission standards and is powered by two dual-fuel engines that can operate on both methanol and marine gas oil (MGO). Since then, several other methanol-powered vessels have been launched, including tankers, ferries, and even a cruise ship.


The use of methanol as a marine fuel has several benefits. Firstly, methanol is a clean-burning fuel that produces significantly lower emissions of nitrogen oxides (NOx) and sulfur oxides (SOx) than conventional marine fuels. Methanol also produces fewer particulate emissions than diesel and is less harmful to the environment. Secondly, methanol is a readily available and affordable fuel, making it a cost-effective alternative to conventional fuels. Thirdly, methanol is a sustainable fuel that can be produced from renewable sources such as biomass, making it a crucial component of the transition to a low-carbon economy.


The use of methanol as a marine fuel is not without its challenges, however. One of the most significant challenges is the availability of methanol infrastructure, including storage and bunkering facilities. Methanol is not as widely available as conventional marine fuels, and the infrastructure required to support its use is not yet fully developed. The development of methanol bunkering infrastructure will require significant investment, and the shipping industry will need to work closely with suppliers and regulatory bodies to develop a reliable and efficient bunkering network.


Another challenge associated with the use of methanol as a marine fuel is safety. Methanol is a highly flammable liquid, and its use requires stringent safety measures to be in place. The storage and handling of methanol require careful consideration to minimize the risk of fire and explosions. Methanol is also toxic and can be harmful to humans if ingested or inhaled. Therefore, safety procedures and training for crews must be put in place to ensure the safe handling and use of methanol as a marine fuel.


Despite these challenges, the use of methanol as a marine fuel has gained significant momentum in recent years. In 2018, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) approved the use of methanol as a marine fuel, providing a regulatory framework for its use. The IMO's approval of methanol as a marine fuel is a significant step forward for the industry, providing a clear signal to shipowners and operators that methanol is a viable and sustainable alternative to conventional fuels.


Several studies have been conducted to assess the environmental and economic benefits of methanol as a marine fuel. One such study, conducted by DNV GL, concluded that methanol could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by up to 60% compared to conventional marine fuels. The study also found that methanol was a cost-effective alternative to LNG and could potentially be more affordable


METHANOL VS LNG


Methanol and liquefied natural gas (LNG) are both alternative marine fuels that offer significant environmental and economic benefits compared to conventional fossil fuels. Methanol has a higher energy density than LNG and can be stored and transported more easily, but the storage requirements for methanol and LNG are different.


Methanol is a liquid fuel that can be stored in tanks similar to those used for conventional marine fuels such as diesel and heavy fuel oil. Methanol tanks can be made of various materials, including stainless steel, coated carbon steel, and aluminum. Methanol tanks must be designed to withstand the corrosive nature of methanol and to prevent leaks and spills. The storage and handling of methanol require careful consideration to minimize the risk of fire and explosions, and proper ventilation is also required to prevent the buildup of methanol vapors.


In contrast, LNG is a cryogenic fuel that must be stored at extremely low temperatures (-162°C) to remain in a liquid state. LNG tanks must be designed to withstand the extreme cold temperatures and to prevent leaks and spills. LNG tanks are typically made of specialized materials such as stainless steel and high-nickel alloys that can withstand the low temperatures of LNG. The storage and handling of LNG require specialized infrastructure and equipment, including cryogenic hoses, valves, and pumps, to transfer the fuel from storage tanks to the ship's engine.


The storage requirements for methanol and LNG are different, with methanol requiring less specialized infrastructure and equipment than LNG. Methanol can be stored in conventional tanks, while LNG requires specialized cryogenic tanks and equipment. The storage and handling of methanol are less complex than LNG, making methanol a more attractive option for shipowners and operators who are looking for a cost-effective and sustainable alternative to conventional fossil fuels.


The choice between methanol and LNG as a marine fuel will depend on various factors, including the availability of fuel, the infrastructure required to store and handle the fuel, and the specific needs of the shipowner or operator. Methanol offers a more straightforward and less complex storage and handling solution than LNG, but LNG may be a more suitable option for ships that require longer range and more extended periods of operation between refueling.


methanol and LNG are both alternative marine fuels that offer significant environmental and economic benefits compared to conventional fossil fuels. Methanol can be stored in conventional tanks and requires less specialized infrastructure and equipment than LNG, making it a more straightforward and cost-effective option for shipowners and operators. The storage and handling of methanol require careful consideration to minimize the risk of fire and explosions, and proper ventilation is also required to prevent the buildup of methanol vapors. The choice between methanol and LNG will depend on various factors, including the availability of fuel, the infrastructure required to store and handle the fuel, and the specific needs of the shipowner or operator.



Editorial Contribution to www.ShipOracle.com

J.F. St-Laurent

Canada Maritime International

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