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Fifty-year maritime industry veteran pledges for methanol as marine fuel

20 Nov 2019

The President of Houston-based maritime consultancy Sea Commerce (America), Inc. firm believes the consumption of methanol as a transportation fuel will bring about increased carbon reduction and cost savings for the shipping industry when compared to liquefied natural gas (LNG).

“As a 50-year maritime industry veteran, I strongly believe that, not just for the marine industry, but also, road transportation, that liquid methanol fuel is the way forward for us to achieve maritime industry’s emission reduction goals cost effectively and efficiently,” Captain Saleem Alavi told delegates during his presentation held at the commercial and technical seminar Methanol as a Marine Fuel at St. Regis hotel Singapore.

One of the questions that has been common from the audience in all five (Dubai, Mumbai, Piraeus, Rio de Janeiro and Singapore) Not-For-Profit Methanol as Marine Fuel seminars organised by Capatin Alavi and Sea Commerce over the past year is:

“Why Methanol is not known in the maritime industry?”

He opines that methanol as a marine fuel has been left behind LNG in terms of regulatory development and public awareness. It takes a number of pieces of the puzzle to be in place, such as regulatory framework, engine technologies and bunkering infrastructure for the take up of alternative fuels to begin and with that goes a need for early adopters and greater industry and public awareness.

“Regretfully the industry awareness is lacking and hence the reason I am doing these seminars. I reached out to partner with the FEDCOM (UAE), Methanol Institute and Methanex for these seminars, after I arrived at the logical conclusion that methanol produce with natural gas as feedstock is the bridging fuel of the future and bio-methanol is the sustainable and totally green fuel – best thing about methanol is being a liquid fuel (similar to existing fuel) is the ease of handling and that its ability to utilize the existing oil infrastructure with minor and cost effective modifications,” states Captain Alavi.

In an earlier presentation, Captain Alavi noted of LNG being susceptible to ageing or weathering, a process where the energy content and characteristics/specs of LNG is change due to Boil Off caused by heat ingress from its surroundings.

The temperature of LNG when freshly stored within terminals is about -162 Celsius at 1 bar, and usually increases to -130 Celsius at 8 bar when used as a fuel by clients such as vessels, he explained.

Smaller vessels such as tugs, pilot boats, ferries with a LNG bunker fuel capacity of 50m3 may experience a 5-hour duration loss in actual engine performance; however, a bigger ship such as a 10,000 m3 LNG bunker fuel capacity containership could instead see a 112-hour loss in steaming time.

LNG bunker tankers and facilities, when used frequently, are also vulnerable to complications from ice and moisture due to equipment not given time to dry by itself.

“If flanges and connectors are not warmed and dried sufficiently and if hoses not air free or filled with NG or nitrogen (inert gas) the condensed moisture, frost and ice may come into the LNG stream and into LNG tanks and further into the fuel systems,” points out Captain Alavi.

“LNG systems contain filters that shall capture ice. But if ice or moisture still gets into the LNG system, such as a tank, it will be a serious problem.”

The use of LNG as a bunker fuel will further unlikely eliminate harmful emissions to the atmosphere in the long run, he adds, quoting an example from a recent study on LNG-powered trucks commissioned by Dutch Government and produced by Transport & Environment a Netherland based firm. The study concluded that the LNG powered trucks emitted 5 times more NOx and does not eliminate PM when compared with the diesel trucks.

Captain highlighted few commercial and technical issues with LNG that have impact on time and costs.

“For example, there are accepted losses on custody transfer in LNG industry. Who will be paying for this owners, charterers or supplier? Since LNG characteristics changes due to aging/weathering, how will the LNG bunkers be traded, mass, density or energy?” He asks.

Further, the process of preparing for LNG bunkering takes more time over conventional bunkering which typically has a 3-page checklist.

Captain Alavi referenced a LNG Bunker Checklist for Ship to Ship, Truck to Ship, and Bunker Station to Ship produced by the International Association of Ports and Harbors which had page counts of 26 pages, 23 pages, and 26 pages for each respective document.

Methanol, although being a liquid fuel, is fully miscible in water and hardly poses any pollution and hazard to the environment, he informs.

It is 240 times less potent then diesel and 19,00 times less than gasoline when compared basis lethal concentration which basically results in no clean-up or any impact on marine life after a methanol spill.

“In comparison to LNG, methanol being liquid fuel (similar to existing fuel) is an easier to handle marine fuel and conversion and maintenance to use methanol as fuel is much less expensive. Methanol also has the potential to address further regulations to limit CO2 emissions to comply with IMO’s 2050 goals,” he says.

“I have worked extensively in the LNG space and understand the challenges posed on that front. I am not here to disparage one option over another, as the best option for your vessel will always be based on your trade routes, actual business and the strain on your wallet with reference to the payback period.”

“As an industry professional, this is my honest assessment. I have not been paid to arrive at this conclusion nor am I beholden to any special interests,” stated Capt. Alavi

“Shipowners need to get the complete picture and understand the fundamentals (commercial, technical and environmental of alternate fuels) before opting to spend millions on conversion,” he concludes.

Related: Methanol as Marine Fuel commercial and technical seminar held at Singapore

Photo credit: Sea Commerce (America), Inc.
Published: 20 November, 2019


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