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IDTechEx research outlines issues towards using methanol as a bunker fuel

08 Mar 2023

Recent research by independent market research and business intelligence provider IDTechEx on Tuesday (7 March) highlighted several advantages and disadvantages towards using methanol as a bunker fuel.

The report ‘Fuel Cell Boats & Ships, a Methanol to the Madness’ noted green methanol to be amongst the most comparable alternative fuels to diesel in terms of energy density.

“And since methanol can be transported as a liquid at around ambient conditions, existing diesel bunker infrastructure can be modified for methanol rapidly at low cost, in contrast to liquid hydrogen and ammonia which require much lower liquefaction temperatures (-253C and -33C, respectively),” stated Luke Gear, Principal Technology Analyst at IDTechEx.

“These advantages make the logistics of using methanol easy, making it attractive for ship operators.

However, the documented stated of several disadvantages towards using the material as a marine fuel.

“Green methanol is still a hydrocarbon, and its use can only sustain current carbon levels since it re-emits the carbon captured to make it,” explained Gear.

“This undermines its potential as a long-term solution compared to green hydrogen and ammonia, particularly as the IMO shifts focus towards regulating greenhouse gases.

“Nonetheless, high concentrations of CO2 are created as a by-product in methanol systems, which lends itself to (re) carbon capture.

“This creates the potential for a more ‘circular’ approach which would keep carbon out of the environment, although this is currently a secondary priority for suppliers and adds cost and complexity.”

Another factor important in the midterm is that green methanol is still a derivative of green hydrogen, he noted.

“For the next decade, green hydrogen will be in short supply, expensive, and demanded by multiple sectors for the so-called hydrogen economy – funnelling it into first-use applications will be the most efficient way to lower emissions,” he wrote.

“The industry must also factor in the continued use of LNG or methane. While LNG emits powerful greenhouse gases with methane slip, the fuel has a similar performance to methanol and can also be created artificially with green hydrogen and carbon capture (e-methane).”

Though the bunker infrastructure for liquid methane is costly (due to the -153C storage requirement, it has been growing for decades due to initial regulation focused on reducing emissions of SOx, NOx, and PM, recognised Gear.

“The question becomes: is it worth dividing resources to develop LNG/methane, ammonia and hydrogen, and methanol?” He asked.

“Choosing to develop a few promising solutions quickly, rather than everything everywhere all at once, would be wise.

“Hydrogen and ammonia create a long-term pathway to zero GHG emissions. Between the hydrocarbons, LNG has a similar performance to methanol and is already widely developed today. Moreover, the continued importance and demand for LNG carriers were indeed highlighted in 2022 with the disruption to natural gas pipelines.”

Overall, Gear believed it is easy to envisage a future with broader adoption of hydrogen PEMFC and batteries in the mid-term and ammonia SOFC adoption in the long term for a true pathway to zero emissions.

“However, the slow development of these solutions could create opportunities for methanol,” he said.

“What is clear is that decarbonizing the marine industry is an immense challenge and one which will continue to rely on multiple solutions, investments, new regulations, collaboration, and testing from both the public and private sectors.”


Photo credit: IDTechEx
Published: 8 March, 2023

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