Photo: Alfa Laval

Alfa Laval begins testing new fuels to support shipping’s transition

Swedish company Alfa Laval will soon start testing two new types of marine fuels — biofuels (made from waste) and methanol, at its Test & Training Centre in Denmark.

Alfa Laval
Image by Alfa Laval

Making these non-carbon fuels commercially viable can have a big impact on the marine industry in its strive towards zero-carbon shipping, Alfa Laval believes.

The International Maritime Organization (IMO) targets a 50 percent reduction of vessel-related greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. To achieve the long-term target of decarbonization, the industry must shift to new fuel types and technologies.

The Alfa Laval Test & Training Centre in Aalborg aims to take a key role in testing new types of fuels to adapt and develop equipment for the vessels’ engine rooms and support the industry’s journey towards decarbonization. The 2,800 square metre testing space – already equipped for today’s oil and gas fuels – has been readied for testing biofuels and methanol. The tests will begin during the spring.

“A number of fuel pathways are on the table in the transition towards zero carbon shipping but the knowledge about their impact on marine equipment solutions is limited. We want to extend that knowledge through testing,” Sameer Kalra, President of the Marine Division, commented.

“It is our ambition to develop viable technology solutions in cooperation with other marine players, so that our customers can achieve their climate goals irrespective of the selected fuel pathway.”

Since ships have a lifetime of 20 years or more, zero-emission vessels must begin entering the global fleet by 2030 for a 50 percent reduction to be achieved by 2050.

 It is predicted that in 2023 the world’s first carbon-neutral liner vessel will be launched and that methanol-fuelled vessel will be ready for delivery in two years’ time, the company added.

Making methanol feasible for standard engines

Initiated two years ago, the Energy Technology Development and Demonstration Program (EUDP) funded methanol project partners Alfa Laval and MAN Energy Solutions with the Danish Technological Institute (DTI), Technical University of Denmark (DTU) and biofuel producer Nordic Green.

Through joint research, the consortium seeks to develop a methanol fuel system that can adapt to today’s marine diesel engines. Methanol, which is abundant and clean-burning, is one of the most promising fossil-free fuels available for future shipping.

“At present, combusting methanol requires a pilot ignition with fuel oil,” Lars Skytte Jørgensen, Vice President Technology Development, Alfa Laval Marine Division, said.

“This necessitates two fuel lines and different types of fuel tanks on board. If methanol from renewable sources could be burned directly in standard compression engines, it would offer a shortcut to carbon-neutral shipping.”

“The move to clean-burning methanol will be a crucial step in decarbonizing the shipping industry,” Klaus Petersen, Engine Specialist, Performance & Optimization at MAN Energy Solutions, agreed.

“Through our collaboration with Alfa Laval and the other project partners, we hope to make that step significantly easier for vessels to take.”

The project’s earlier groundwork

Burning methanol in an unmodified diesel engine will require new engine software, which must be developed through engine testing and work with combustion modelling, according to Alfa Laval.

Early tests of the concept on smaller engines at the Technical University of Denmark (DTU) and later at the Danish Technological Institute (DTI) showed promising results. This led to a small-scale experiment with methanol at the Alfa Laval Test & Training Centre, using a single cylinder of the centre’s 2 MW marine engine.

“We were excited at just how well the one-cylinder experiment ran. And now we are ready to proceed with wider testing,” Jørgensen continued.

Substantial delivery of climate-neutral methanol

Alfa Laval said it is well prepared to move ahead, having already equipped the Alfa Laval Test & Training Centre with tanks and ancillary equipment for working with biofuels. The tanks have been readied for an exceptional delivery from Nordic Green, who supplied the green methanol in March.

“We produce our methanol from waste sources instead of new biomass,” Bo Gleerup, CEO at Nordic Green, explained.

“This means the coming combustion tests will be neutral in CO2 impact – exactly as the operation of tomorrow’s vessels needs to be.”

Once the fuel arrives, the first task will be determining how to handle it at scale. Because methanol is a liquid at room temperature, it can be stored in unpressurized tanks. However, a low flashpoint of 7°C makes methanol highly volatile – despite the challenge of igniting it through compression. After working out the handling practicalities, broader tests of methanol in the unmodified engine will commence in April.

Fuel focus that extends beyond the engine

For Alfa Laval, methanol testing is part of looking ahead at the marine fuel landscape, which will shift from today’s emphasis on LNG to methanol and then renewable ammonia.

Although the current project has the engine in focus, it provides a practical catalyst for much wider development work at the centre.

“When it comes to new fuels, our close work with engine makers leads us to new ideas and opportunities,” Jørgensen further said.

“A good example is Alfa Laval PureCool, our solution for reducing methane slip from LNG engines, which was developed in partnership with WinGD. Our boilers and other existing products will also be used with methanol, so we need to do the same fuel homework we did with LNG.”

“We were investigating LNG combustion at the Alfa Laval Test & Training Centre long before the LNG market began moving in earnest,” Jørgensen emphasized.

“Understanding the fuel and how it works in depth is of huge importance before bringing anything to market. The same will be true for methanol and ammonia.”