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Alternative Fuels

Conventional to renewable: Methanol can support sustainable shipping to 2050 and beyond

The maritime industry is already gaining experience with the new fuels it will need to deliver a step change in emissions reduction, says Chris Chatterton.




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Chris Chatterton, Chief Operating Officer at the Methanol Institute, writes why adopting conventional methanol as bunker fuel is the shipping industry’s answer to its 2050 emissions target.

The ambitious goals for carbon emission reductions set by the IMO have prompted a surge of activity in the investment, research and development needed to produce the low carbon fuels that will power shipping into the second half of the 20th century.

The International Chamber of Shipping recently noted that meeting these goals – a 70% efficiency improvement as an average across the fleet, and a total CO2 reduction by the sector of at least 50% by 2050 regardless of expected growth in maritime trade – can only be achieved with the development of genuine zero CO2 fuels.

This will require the adoption of ‘radical and as yet unproven technologies’ including Hydrogen, Methanol and batteries, with LNG or conventional biofuels playing only a transitional role. Development of these new fuels requires co-operation between shipbuilders, engine manufacturers and classification societies, with research into new propulsion systems facilitated by governments within an IMO framework.

Despite the looming disruption of the 2020 deadline, the industry recognises the political need to start achieving carbon reductions before 2050 – something which can already be achieved by adopting conventional Methanol.

Critically, the ICS believes that to kick-start use of new technologies will require compromises in the form of permitting use of alternatives that are still derived from fossil feedstock but which offer very low ‘in sector’ emissions. In the longer term, as fuel from renewable sources become increasingly available, the ‘well-to-wake’ emissions will fall progressively.

The higher cost of conventional fuel expected post-2020 will not only begin to make Methanol price-competitive as a marine fuel, it also de-risks the investment in newbuilds and conversions, because owners can use conventional Methanol for 2020 SOx compliance then progressively blend in low-carbon Biomethanol as more becomes available to meet carbon emission targets after they are fully agreed in 2023.

A liquid fuel with simple and established safe handling practices, Biomethanol is the most attractive choice of the future biofuels, with no SOx and lower PM emissions than biodiesel and CO2 emissions are lower than those of LNG.

The shipping industry is already beginning to undertake the research it needs to drive the development of next generation biofuels. UK-based E4Tech has concluded that biofuels will provide substantial reductions in GHG and non-GHG emissions, offering a range of decarbonisation solutions in the short and longer term.

E4Tech was commissioned by the Platform for Sustainable Biofuels to draw up a master plan for CO2-reduction in the Dutch shipping sector using biofuels, analysing a range of products to understand their potential for adoption in the shipping sector.

Through qualitative analysis of GHG reduction potential, readiness of production, cost and compatibility with the current vessel fleet in each shipping sector. E4Tech concluded that Biomethanol is potentially a highly attractive option in terms of costs and GHG emissions reductions.

It found that growth in use of sustainable biofuels requires action by multiple stakeholders to address technical, economic and operational barriers. But it concluded that Biomethanol is highly attractive to the inland and short-sea shipping sectors because its energy density suits vessels with regular port calls, suggesting close dialogue with ports will be necessary to drive change.

Separate research undertaken by Lloyd’s Register and University Maritime Advisory Services for the Sustainable Shipping Initiative (SSI) concluded that biofuels could be the most feasible and cost effective means of compliance for some ship types.

Alternatives including hydrogen fuel cells, electric power and biofuels were evaluated using variable supply scenarios and different vessel types with results suggesting that biofuels are likely to be the most economically attractive for the post-2030 shipping industry.

The ability to use biofuels in a similar fashion to conventional fuels in an internal combustion engine means that additional investment costs can be kept low and the cost of running a ship on biofuel will mostly be dictated by the cost of the fuel itself.

The study highlights the need for sustainable non-food derived biofuels and that shipping may need to compete with other industries for supply, creating a potential upside risk to prices. And it also concludes that further research and development is needed into the performance, energy density and cost of biofuels for their viability to be better understood.

The recently-concluded Sustainable Marine Methanol (SUMMETH) project backed the increased use of Methanol as a marine fuel, concluding that there are no obstacles to its use in a converted diesel engine.

The project was designed to understand the technical feasibility and environmental outcomes from conversion of a smaller diesel engine. It studied a road ferry with an engine capacity of about 350 kW making short trips between the mainland and islands in the Stockholm archipelago, carrying people as well as cars.

It found that this type of smaller vessel conversion project is both feasible and cost-effective, with levels of safety that easily meet existing requirements. Switching to Methanol would offer immediate environmental benefits, including close to zero SOx and particulate matter emissions and significantly lower NOx emissions compared to conventional marine fuels or biodiesel.

SUMMETH concluded that there are no barriers to bunkering the road ferries, since this could easily be switched from diesel to Methanol, enabling the ferry operator to immediately reduce particulate emissions and progressively reduce carbon emissions as renewable Bio-methanol becomes available.

Finally, the MethaShip project, conducted under the auspices of the Research and Development Department at the Meyer Werft shipyard in partnership with Flensburger Schiffbau-Gesellschaft and Lloyd’s Register, considered prospects for a Methanol-powered cruiseships and ro-pax ferries.

Its central conclusion is that Biomethanol is a fuel with a future, one which offers the potential for implementing an ambitious maritime climate protection strategy. Some technical and financial details remain to be clarified before Methanol can be used more widely in shipping, however, in the medium term a breakthrough is possible if a statutory framework can be established to evaluate holistic evaluation of CO2 emissions reduction.

We are in a time of considerable uncertainty in the shipping industry, with 2020 looming and the IMO still to decide the details of measures to meet its ambitious carbon reduction targets. But for owners pondering not just how they will comply with 2020 but also with future carbon emissions reduction, there is strong evidence that Methanol can provide a safe, reliable and ultimately renewable pathway into the future of marine fuels.

Related: SUMMETH project approves of methanol as bunker fuel
Related: ISO to develop standard for methyl/ethyl alcohol fuels
Related: Methanol Institute: Singapore, China markets exploring use of methanol as marine fuel
Related: Methanol offers shipping ‘pathway’ to a low carbon future

Photo credit: Methanex
Published: 5 July, 2018


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Alternative Fuels

DNV paper outlines bunkering of alternative marine fuels for boxships

Third edition of its paper series focuses on LNG, methanol and ammonia as alternative bunker fuel options for containerships; explores bunkering aspects for LNG and methanol.





DNV paper outlines bunkering of alternative marine fuels for boxships

Classification society DNV recently released the third edition of its paper series Alternative fuels for containerships, focused on LNG, methanol and ammonia as alternative bunker fuel options for containerships.

In its updated paper series, DNV examined the different alternative marine fuel options and provided an overview of the most important technical and commercial considerations for the containership sector.

It explored the bunkering technology for LNG, bunkering infrastructure for methanol, and availability and infrastructure of ammonia. 

Building on the foundation laid in the second edition, which focused on the most important aspects of methanol as a fuel, this latest third edition delves deeper  – exploring the technical intricacies and commercial considerations associated with adopting methanol as an alternative fuel for containerships.

Furthermore, it provides an overview of crucial aspects related to ammonia and discusses its potential as an alternative fuel for containerships.

Amongst others, the new edition of the paper looks at the following aspects:

  • Technical design considerations for methanol
  • Commercial implications of adopting methanol as an alternative fuel
  • Ammonia's potential as an alternative fuel
  • Availability, infrastructure and ship fuel technology for ammonia
  • Major updates based on the latest IMO GHG strategy decisions at the MEPC 80 meeting

Note: The third edition of DNV’s full paper titled Alternative Fuels for Containerships can be found here.

Related: DNV paper outlines bunkering infrastructure of alternative fuels for boxships

Photo credit: DNV
Published: 29 November, 2023

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Alternative Fuels

EDF, LR and Arup launch tool scoring ports’ potential to produce and bunker electrofuels

Tool is also applied to three different port scenarios, including ports exploring fuel production and bunkering, ports exploring fuel exports, and ports exploring fuel imports and bunkering.





EDF, LR and Arup launch tool scoring ports’ potential to produce and bunker electrofuels

Lloyd’s Register (LR) Maritime Decarbonisation Hub and Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), in collaboration with Arup, on Tuesday (28 November) introduced the Sustainable First Movers Initiative Identification Tool, a system to help shipping stakeholders align investment decisions that support the maritime energy transition away from fossil fuels.

The tool, which is presented in a preliminary findings report – The Potential of Ports in Developing Sustainable First Movers Initiatives – scores a port’s potential to produce and bunker electrofuels while delivering local environmental and community benefits in alignment with the global temperature target of 1.5 degrees Celsius set by the Paris Agreement.

“Ports can play an important role in kickstarting shipping’s decarbonisation process even before global policies are established,” said Marie Cabbia Hubatova, Director, Global Shipping at Environmental Defense Fund.

“By considering the impact sustainable first mover initiatives can have on port-side communities, climate, environment and economies, resources can be better directed to locations where these initiatives will make the biggest difference.”

With close to two billion people living near coastal zones globally, the role of, and impacts on local port communities must be intentionally considered as the sector decarbonises globally. Ports can play a crucial role in ensuring shipping decarbonisation efforts are done in a way that has positive impacts on port communities.

The preliminary phase of the Sustainable First Movers Initiative Identification Tool analyses 108 ports in the Indo-Pacific region according to five criteria including land suitability, air quality, renewable energy surplus, economic resilience and ship traffic.

It is also applied to three different port scenarios, including ports exploring fuel production and bunkering, ports exploring fuel exports, and ports exploring fuel imports and bunkering. The combined criteria and scenario evaluation determines which ports have the greatest potential (high potential) for sustainable first mover initiatives to lead to significant emissions reductions and positive impacts in nearby communities, such as improved air quality and economic resilience.

“The transition to clean energy supply for shipping can be achieved only if stakeholders act together. Identifying potential port locations is the first step in this process,” said Dr Carlo Raucci, Consultant at Lloyd’s Register Maritime Decarbonisation Hub. “This approach sets the base for a regional sustainable transition that considers the impacts on port-side communities and the need to avoid regions in the Global South lagging behind.”

Regions in the Global South are fundamental in driving the decarbonisation of shipping. To make this transition effective, the rate at which different countries adopt and scale up electrofuels must be proportional to the difference in capital resources globally to avoid additional costs being passed on to local communities. Sustainable first mover initiatives can play an important role in making this happen by ensuring the sector’s decarbonisation is inclusive of all regions and by engaging all shipping stakeholders, including port-side communities.

“There’s a huge opportunity for early adopter shipping decarbonisation initiatives to unlock benefits for people and planet – shaping the way for a more equitable transition in the 2030s,” said Mark Button, Associate, Arup. “Our collective approach shows that taking a holistic view of shipping traffic, fuel production potential and port communities could help prioritise action at ports with the greatest near-term potential.”

The tool can be customised according to stakeholders’ needs and goals and is dependent on scenario desirability. The next phase of this work will include the selection and detailed assessment of 10 ports to help better understand local needs and maximise the value offered by sustainable first mover initiatives. 

LR and EDF carried out a joint study on ammonia as shipping fuel, and LR and Arup have collaborated on The Resilience Shift study focused on fuel demand for early adopters in green corridors, ports, and energy systems, amongst many other projects.

Photo credit: Lloyd’s Register
Published: 29 November, 2023

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Wärtsilä signs agreement for first zero-emission high speed ferries in US

Group has signed a strategic partnership agreement to provide its Fleet Electrification and Systems Integrator Services for a project to build the first zero-emission high speed ferries in the United States.





Wärtsilä signs agreement for first zero-emission high speed ferries in US

Technology group Wärtsilä on Tuesday (28 November) said it has signed a strategic partnership agreement to provide its Fleet Electrification and Systems Integrator Services for a project to build the first zero-emission high speed ferries in the United States.

The fully electric vessels will be built for San Francisco’s Water Emergency Transportation Authority (WETA), the operator of the San Francisco Bay Ferry system.

The project, and several others Wärtsilä will work on under this partnership, are a part of the agency’s Rapid Electric Emission-Free (REEF) Ferry Program, a phased decarbonisation of high-speed, high-capacity ferry service in the San Francisco Bay. 

Wärtsilä will work within the WETA project team to finalise vessel and charging system concepts.

“We’re proud to operate the cleanest high-speed ferry fleet in the nation, but a zero-emission future for our system is within reach,” said WETA Executive Director, Seamus Murphy. 

“Wärtsilä’s expertise and experience will be incredibly valuable given the complexity our ferry decarbonisation program entails.”

“This is a major project within the maritime sector’s journey towards decarbonisation, and we are proud to be a part of it,” said Hanno Schoonman, Director of sales for AMER region, Wärtsilä Marine Power. 

“Wärtsilä joins an industry leading team tasked to develop newbuild battery electric vessels that combine innovative technology and sustainable practices. Wärtsilä is well qualified to provide this project support, and this agreement is a clear endorsement of our strong track record in systems integration and emission-free propulsion.”

After completing the conceptual phase, WETA will move on to the initial construction phase of a multi-vessel programme. This phase will involve the building of three smaller ferries with a capacity of approximately 150 passengers each and two larger ferries capable of carrying at least 300 passengers. 

Additionally, the scope of this phase will encompass the inclusion of battery charging floats. The construction of the first electric-powered vessel is slated to commence before the conclusion of 2023, with commercial operations expected to launch in 2025.

Photo credit: Wärtsilä 
Published: 29 November, 2023

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