Methanol Institute calls for the adoption of methanol as Arctic fuel

The Methanol Institute is urging the maritime community to mitigate pollution and emissions risk in Polar regions by adopting methanol as marine fuel, and applying bunkering guidelines developed by the European Committee for Standardisation (CEN).

The call is being issued on the back of IMO’s meeting in November which resulted in the adoption of amendments to MARPOL regulations to restrict the use of Heavy Fuel Oil in Arctic waters.

The ban has been criticized because it includes exemptions and waivers that can be granted by the Arctic States.

Specifically, under the new regulations, five central Arctic coastal States – Russia, Norway, Denmark (Greenland), Canada and the United States – will have the option of issuing waivers to their own flagged ships while they are operating in their own waters. As a result, a comprehensive ban on HFO may not come into effect until mid-2029.

The Clean Arctic Alliance believes this will create a two-tier system of environmental protection and enforcement in the Arctic because the regulation is not flag-neutral and negative environmental consequences in the Arctic’s territorial seas and exclusive economic zones.

Some NGOs are also concerned that very low sulphur fuel oil used in place of HFO contains high levels of black carbon, a particularly dangerous pollutant to the Arctic environment where it can settle on and increase the melt rate of sea ice.

“The shipping industry knows that the use of HFO in the Arctic is unsustainable and questions around the black carbon content of VLSFO raise serious questions that need to be addressed,” says Methanol Institute Chief Operating Officer Chris Chatterton

“Being miscible in water and biodegradable means methanol has negligible spill risk and it’s possible to use as a marine fuel with close to zero particulate matter emissions.”

The Safe Maritime Operations under Extreme Conditions: the Arctic Case (SEDNA) project has put forward technical provisions and assessment of relative safety risks along with safety zone guidance for three methanol bunkering concepts: truck to ship, shore to ship and ship to ship.

The project secured a CEN Workshop Agreement on a process to address safety during bunkering of Methanol as a marine fuel earlier this year.

It includes a safety assessment of the implications for the environment, for vessels and their crews of projected accidents where the vessels involved using low flash point and conventional fossil fuels.

Consideration was given for ships intended to be exposed to the Arctic’s specific environmental conditions, by providing comprehensively comparative safety assessments of the use of low flash point fuels in Arctic shipping operations in place of conventional fossil fuels. The CEN Workshop Agreement on Methanol bunkering processes set out requirements for bunkering Methanol to marine vessels and included the following four elements.

  • Guidelines for usage of hardware and transfer system,
  • Operational procedures,
  • Requirement for the methanol provider to provide a bunker delivery note,
  • Training and qualification of personnel involved.

“With the expected increase in shipping traffic operations in the Arctic comes a corresponding increase in the risk of accidents as well as an increase in ship-source emissions,” adds Chatterton. “Nations are increasingly moving ahead of the regulatory curve in restricting HFO use and Methanol gives them a practical and scalable alternative that will increasingly see renewable volumes coming onstream.”

Used as a marine fuel, conventional methanol emits no sulfur, very low PM and according to data from MAN Energy Solutions has carbon dioxide emissions around 20% lower than conventional marine fuel oil. To meet IMO NOx Tier III requirements, methanol can be blended with water which brings the ship into compliance without the need for expensive exhaust gas after treatment, the institute said.

In the longer term, the production of renewable bio-methanol provides a climate-neutral pathway for the industry to adopt sustainable marine fuel.

The IMO estimates that methanol will be  the fourth most significant marine fuel used and is growing.”