Methanol is key solution for shipping decarbonisation today, research suggests

A new report addressing the reduction of emissions from the global maritime sector has verified the benefits of methanol as a marine fuel highlighting it as a key solution for decarbonisation.

Image by Proman Stena Bulk

The report, published by clean energy financial services firm Longspur Research, looks into potential solutions for decarbonisation in the shipping market worth $105 billion per year.

According to the report, methanol’s benefits such as fungibility, availability, energy density and most importantly, the ability to significantly reduce emissions immediately put it in the spotlight of maritime decarbonisation.

Shipping is said to generate over one billion tons of emissions through carbon dioxide (CO2) and airborne pollutants such as sulphur oxides (SOx), nitrous oxides (NOx) and particulate matter, and methanol is said to be able to cut these emissions by over 60% thanks to its clean-burning qualities.

Moreover, methanol produced from natural gas offers an initial 10-15% CO2 saving, rising to over 90% when using renewable methanol.

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Therefore, the report recognised it as “the best solution available today. Firstly, it is available today and is technology proven so can be selected for new build or it can be retrofitted to existing fleets. It is dense enough to be useable without significantly displacing load capacity and it is useable without too many hazards. It can be bunkered vessel to vessel or shore to vessel. Finally, it is the lowest cost option at the point of delivery”.

To remind, the safety of methanol was confirmed in November 2020 with the International Maritime Organisation’s (IMO) approval of guidelines for methanol to be used as a safe ship fuel.

Industry’s big players paving the way for methanol

As the IMO and European Union (EU) increase requirements from customers and financial institutions, the shipping industry is pushed towards net zero emissions by 2050.

Recently, the maritime sector witnessed some of the world’s largest shipping names support methanol as the leading alternative marine fuel.

To begin with, Danish container shipping and logistics giant Maersk increased their order from eight to twelve 16,000 TEU methanol-powered containerships. At the time, Maersk confirmed for Offshore Energy that the newly-ordered four boxships will be delivered in 2025, following the delivery of eight similar vessels ordered on 24 August 2021.

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Moving on, technology company Rolls-Royce also revealed plans to set standards in high-speed methanol engines. Specifically, the company’s business unit Power Systems is currently working on mtu engines for use with methanol. The new high-speed four-stroke engines, which are based on mtu technologies, are planned to be available as soon as possible for use in commercial ships and yachts.

Similarly, Swiss integrated energy company Proman teamed up with Swedish shipping company Stena back in October 2021 to develop a retrofit and supply solution that will allow vessels to run on methanol as a marine fuel. As informed, the new solution will be used to power both Stena’s vessels and third-party ships and is expected to contribute to lowering CO2 emissions.

Moreover, German engine manufacturer MAN made significant investments in methanol technology.

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In November 2021, the company revealed its plans to work on upgrading the four-stroke engines to run on green future fuels, including methanol and ammonia, and said: “In 2022, we will offer engines that are designed for later conversion – if required – to methanol operation. From 2024, we will make solutions for the use of methanol in four-stroke engines available“.

At the end of 2021, Methanol as an Energy Step Towards Zero-Emission Dutch Shipping (MENENS) maritime consortium was awarded a €24 million (about $27 million) grant to conduct research into accelerating the use of methanol as a low-carbon fuel within the shipping industry.

Sponsored by the Netherlands Enterprise Agency, the research project aims to develop clean energy technology with a high degree of flexibility and broad applications within the shipping industry, from yacht building to offshore work ships and high-powered dredgers.

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