ORNL, Caterpillar to work on methanol use in marine engines

The US Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) and engine manufacturer Caterpillar have entered into a cooperative research and development agreement (CRADA) to investigate using methanol as an alternative fuel source for four-stroke internal combustion marine engines.

Oak Ridge National Laboratory

Under the terms of the CRADA, ORNL researchers will work with Caterpillar over the next few years to identify, develop and test hardware configurations and operating strategies required to maximize the use of methanol in engines retrofitted for methanol.

Specifically, research will be conducted on Caterpillar’s in-line 6-cylinder marine engine that has been modified for methanol use and installed at DOE’s National Transportation Research Center at ORNL.

According to the partners, new engine designs will also be considered, and several engine combustion strategies will be explored including dual-fuel, dimethyl ether reforming and spark-ignited prechambers. Caterpillar will support ORNL by providing additional materials and research expertise to enable engine performance, efficiency and durability while reducing GHG and other emissions.

“We look forward to working with Caterpillar to develop near-term combustion strategies that can be retrofitted on existing engines to realize immediate reductions in carbon emissions. We also will develop long-term combustion strategies for new engine technologies that achieve 100% displacement of diesel fuel with methanol,” said ORNL’s Jim Szybist, section head for Propulsion Science.

“The research we conduct over the next few years will be a significant contributor to decarbonization efforts globally.”

The project supports DOE’s Vehicle Technologies Office’s focus on reducing GHG emissions from off-road vehicles such as railway, aviation and heavy transportation vehicles used in agriculture, construction, mining and marine vessels. These sectors are significantly more challenging to decarbonize than on-road, light-duty transportation applications and require unique solutions.

“Caterpillar is proud to be working with ORNL as we develop the technology for a lower carbon future. Our marine customers across the U.S. have been clear that methanol will play a key role in their journey to net-zero emissions. The maritime industry has unique challenges that can’t necessarily be met by technologies being developed for other transportation sectors, so it is important to have this collaboration with ORNL to accelerate the technology and set the path for the future,” said Brad Johnson, vice president of Caterpillar Marine.

In addition to DOE’s Vehicle Technologies Office, the collaboration is funded by the U.S. Department of Transportation Maritime Administration.

In April this year, Caterpillar was contracted to work on the installation of dual-fuel methanol engines on tugs owned by towage operator Svitzer, a part of A.P. Moller-Maersk. Earlier on, Dutch shipbuilder Damen signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Caterpillar for the Netherlands Pon Power for the joint development of a series of dual-fuel methanol/diesel-powered tugs.

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