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Interview: Lloyd’s Register and Methanol Institute explain methanol bunkering technical reference

02 Sep 2020

Methanol Institute (MI) and Lloyd’s Register (LR) have recently released a bunkering technical reference to provide owners, fuel suppliers and port authorities with practical guidance on the safe bunkering of methanol as a marine fuel.

Singapore bunkering publication Manifold Times had a chance to catch up with Chris Chatterton of MI and Douglas Raitt, Global FOBAS Manager, LR in an email interview to discuss the growth in interest of methanol as a marine fuel and how this guidance can support further and faster adoption.

MT: By how much has the use of methanol as bunker fuel grown through the last five years, and how did it happen?

MI: From a standing start roughly five years ago, there are now 12 vessels currently trading on methanol internationally with about the same number scheduled for delivery in 2021-2022.

MT: What kind of methanol marine fuel projects are currently conducted at various countries? 

MI: There have been numerous projects trialling methanol to varying degrees over the past 5 years, by leading engine OEMs, research institutions and private organisations. Currently there are two, notable European pilot projects being conducted: Green Maritime Methanol and Fastwater.

MT: Apart from methanol carriers, which other vessel segments will be ideal candidates to use methanol as bunkers during the initial stage of adoption and why? 

MI: It is difficult to say which vessel segment could be prioritised as “ideal”, as much depends on how often they may prefer to bunker and proximity to major methanol hubs, how much fuel they would need to carry, amount of time spent in ECAs and many other factors.

Many smaller vessels which may have difficulty fitting a scrubber or gas infrastructure to their vessel may find methanol to be a more suitable, step-change solution.  We have demonstrated the benefits of blending Low levels of methanol in HFO with extremely good emissions reduction results on larger vessels.

Short sea shipping, feeder vessels, ferries, cruise and harbour craft which call to port or can more actively manage their bunker requirements are all good candidates as bunkering methanol is simple, not requiring any more time than MGO.

OSVs could benefit as many carry methanol on board as part of their “tool chest” for down hole applications and as a solvent.

For these types of vessels, we have a range of successful retrofit pilots which we can draw experience from.

For other vessel types and because methanol is liquid at ambient temperature, it is possible to design ‘fit for purpose’ tanks either above or below deck, as storage represents the largest hurdle to overcome.  However, we are currently working on more standardised methanol dual fuel designs for such purpose, together with major yards, OEMs, and shippers.

MT: Which locations are methanol available for purchase as fuel and what are the current options for its delivery? 

MI: Methanol is widely available at over 120 ports globally and can be provided as a bunker with little difficulty, either from a stationary site at berth or ship-to-ship.

MT: Methanol and its low flash point. What can be done about this for safe bunkering/handling/consumption as a vessel fuel? 

LR: The use of methanol as fuel falls under the International Code of Safety for Ships Using Gases or Other Low-flashpoint Fuels (IGF Code). Of course there is a need for more bespoke bunkering procedures with regards to methanol bunkering, hence LR’s initiative with the Methanol Institute to develop a methanol bunkering technical reference with associated bunker delivery mode operational safety checklists. It is our hope this will facilitate the wider recognition of methanol as a bunker, by raising the awareness of methanol as one of the fuels and viable solutions in assisting the shipping industry along its charted decarbonisation trajectory.

MT: Any changes to equipment of bunker tankers and consumer vessels when using methanol as bunker fuel? 

LR: The IMO’s Interim Guidelines for Methanol as a Low Flash Point Fuel outlines specific safety features of handling methanol on-board a vessel, which are non-exhaustive. The fuel delivery system is where the main differences can be found – beginning with fuel tanks which may require to be larger, or more of them, to accommodate more fuel to compensate for a lower energy equivalency versus MGO or HFO. The alternative to larger tanks may be to bunker more often.

However, as methanol is a liquid at ambient temperature, tank capacity can be flexibly installed on-board most vessel types and generally requires less space than gas-ready vessels. From here, double-walled, nitrogen-inerted piping will move fuel to higher pressure fuel pumps or fuel booster injector valve units as the system requires to move twice as much fuel, on a volumetric basis, again due to methanol’s lower energy density.

In the event a leak or breach of any kind is detected, sections of the fuel delivery system are automatically sealed off, with any remaining fuel in the fuel lines safely purged by nitrogen, along with gravity, to a separate holding tank. As methanol is a more aggressive product, robust material compatibility requirements can be identified on critical equipment within the fuel delivery system and common rail.

The common rail itself undergoes some slight modifications to include pilot fuel delivery, valve sealant oil delivery, and methanol purge lines – all connecting to multi-purpose injectors, whether new build or retrofit.

A bunker vessel could easily operate on methanol as well, with the same basic systems and safety procedures in place as above. Once all safety and material compatibility aspects for low flash point fuel are taken into consideration, the physical bunkering of methanol is not substantially different than bunkering MGO.

MT: What is calorific value of methanol versus traditional IMO compliant marine VLSFO/ULSFO fuels? 

LR: The calorific value of methanol is about half of the calorific value of diesel oils and residual fuels, also the density of methanol is lower than for diesel oils and residual fuels. Therefore, the bunker storage system could be up to double that of conventional IMO compliant fuels and distillates, if the same vessel range was maintained.  However, since it is assumed two fuels or more would be stored on board, with the sum total tank capacity on an energy equivalent basis for the required range, in between bunkering operations.

MT: Do you foresee any issue of off spec, compatibility, stability issues of using methanol as fuel? Are there such things as different types of methanol and can they be blended/mixed together without issues? 

LR: Methanol is a pure product (>99.85% purity), it readily dissolves in water and is bio-degradable. Methanol from different sources can readily be mixed and do not pose any compatibility or stability related issues. The likelihood of methanol being off-specification is non-existent and as such testing as we know it with conventional IMO compliant bunkers will not be required in the case of methanol.

Related: Lloyd’s Register and Methanol Institute launch methanol bunkering technical reference

Photo credit: Methanol Institute
Published: 2 September, 2019

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