Ulsan wants to become a methanol bunkering hub

Ulsan port
Port of Ulsan; Image credit: KR

Ulsan Port Authority (UPA) has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the international classification society Korean Register (KR) to support methanol-fueled ships and establish the South Korean port as a low-carbon energy hub.

“UPA is actively working to make eco-friendly, and low-carbon fuels become more of a universal feature in shipping and port markets. We will support the widespread use of methanol-fueled ships and methanol bunkering in cooperation with KR using Ulsan port, one of the key energy hubs of North-East Asia,” Jeong Chang-gyu, Vice President of UPA, said.

The agreement is being made as the low-carbon energy transition in the shipping and port industries continues to accelerate. The duo said that it would collaborate on regulatory reform, deregulation of methanol-fueled ships and methanol bunkering, utilizing independent tank terminals in Ulsan as methanol storage facilities, testing methanol bunkering at Ulsan port and building methanol supply infrastructure in Korean ports.

The announcement comes on the back of a growing number of orders for methanol-fuelled vessels, with container shipping companies such as Maersk, CMA CGM, and COSCO accounting for a lion’s share of those orders.

Methanol produces 99% less sulfur oxides (SOx), 80% less nitrogen oxides (NOx) and 25% less greenhouse gases compared to conventional marine fuels. It is much easier to handle compared to gaseous fuels and it is less hazardous for aquatic organisms compared to marine gas oil or heavy fuel oil. The main challenges lie in the fuel system and injection technology as well as in the optimization of the combustion process.

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In August this year, Proman Stena Bulk’s methanol-fuelled tankers Stena Pro Patria and Stena Pro Marine become the first vessels to bunker methanol in Ulsan, South Korea.

The bunkering was executed despite South Korea not being a methanol-producing country, and neither vessel was carrying methanol as cargo. The fuel’s availability in Ulsan is said to come as a ‘clear indicator’ of the growing and already widespread availability of MMF for owners and operators that are interested in combating shipping emissions.

Ulsan is located adjacent to one of the world’s largest shipyards Hyundai Heavy Industries as well as in close proximity to two other leading global shipbuilding nations, China and Japan. Successful bunkering of MMF in Ulsan is seen as an encouraging sign for many of the other methanol newbuild vessels currently on order within the region.

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Furthermore, in October South Korean shipping company KSS Marine took delivery of the country’s first methanol-powered vessel, MV Savonetta Sun, a 50,000 dwt product tanker. The ship is the first domestic vessel to use methanol as fuel, and it has secured a 15-year shipping contract with Waterfront Shipping, a shipping company of the world’s largest methanol producer and distributor Methanex Corporation.

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The increasing global uptake of methanol as a marine fuel is aided by its current availability across 120 ports worldwide, including the major global bunkering hubs of Singapore, Algeciras, Houston and Rotterdam. Meanwhile, other key locations such as the Port of Gothenburg and Rotterdam are adopting or developing new simple methanol bunkering guidelines.