Port of Antwerp-Bruges: ‘World’s first’ methanol-powered tug launched

The Port of Antwerp-Bruges has launched Methatug, described as “the world’s first” methanol-powered tugboat.

Courtesy of Port of Antwerp-Bruges

The 29.5-meter-long tugboat is part of a greening program for the port’s fleet and an important step in transitioning to a climate-neutral port by 2050.

“Together with our partners, we are pioneering with innovative technologies for the transition to alternative and renewable energy sources. The Methatug is a new and essential step in our efforts to make our own fleet greener and become climate neutral by 2050. Thanks to projects such as this, we are paving the way and hope to be an example and a source of inspiration for other ports,” Jacques Vandermeiren, CEO of Port of Antwerp-Bruges, commented.

The project is financed by the European research programme Horizon 2020 and is part of the Fastwater project, which aims to demonstrate the feasibility of methanol as a sustainable fuel for the shipping industry.

First methanol-powered tugboat

Methanol is one of the fuels of the future and produces lower emissions, an important factor in the Port of Antwerp-Bruges’ ambition to be climate-neutral by 2050.

Methanol can be produced from renewable sources, is a clean fuel and can be used for both brand-new ships and retrofits because it is liquid under ambient conditions.

For the Methatug, which was unveiled on May 14, 2024, the engines from an existing tugboat were converted into ‘dual fuel’ engines, meaning that they run on a mixture of methanol and traditional fuel.

View on Youtube.

The 30-meter-long tugboat has a traction force of 50 tons and can store 12,000 litres of methanol, enough for two weeks of tug work.

Fastwater project

The Methatug is part of the European Fastwater project, which aims to demonstrate the feasibility of methanol as a sustainable fuel for the shipping industry, and was financed by the European research and innovation programme Horizon 2020.

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In addition to Port of Antwerp-Bruges, various other partners from the Fastwater consortium are involved in this project: the Swedish ship design agency ScandiNAOS, the Belgian engine manufacturer Anglo Belgian Corporation, the German company Heinzmann responsible for the methanol injectors, Ghent University for the emission monitoring programme and the Canadian methanol supplier Methanex during the trials.

The project also encompassed the conversions to methanol propulsion of a pilot boat in Sweden, a river cruise ship in Germany and a coastguard vessel in Greece.

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Green fleet and multi-fuel port

The launching of the methanol dual-fuel tug is part of a greening program for the Port of Antwerp-Bruges’ fleet as the port strives to integrate the most environmentally friendly technologies available.

So far, the Hydrotug 1, the first tugboat to run on hydrogen, and energy-efficient RSD tugboats have already been added to the fleet.

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Another fully electric tugboat will follow later this year as the first in Europe.

“The fact we are able to announce another world premier today in the field of clean energy is fantastic news for our port and for the shipping industry in general. Just like with the Hydrotug, the world’s first hydrogen-powered tugboat, this project confirms our pioneering role in the field of energy transition. The ecosystem of our port platform forms an ideal, large-scale testing ground for this,” Annick De Ridder, Vice-Mayor of the City of Antwerp and President of the Board of Directors of Port of Antwerp-Bruges, said.

As the fifth largest bunker port in the world, Port of Antwerp-Bruges also aims to become a full-fledged multi-fuel port, in which seagoing and inland vessels will be able to bunker, not only conventional fuels but also alternative, low-carbon fuels, such as methanol, hydrogen or electricity.

In early April, the first methanol bunkering with the deepsea vessel Ane Maersk took place in Antwerp, a new milestone in this ambition.

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“Methanol has everything to become the fuel of the future and play a pioneering role in the greening of the shipping industry. Thanks to the expertise and efforts of the different partners from the consortium, we are now able to take important steps with the Methatug to demonstrate its feasibility,” Sebastian Verhelst, Project Coordinator at Fastwater, concluded.