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Methanol Institute: ‘Plausible’ business opportunity, lower barriers to entry for methanol bunkering first movers

01 Feb 2023

Credible business opportunities are available for ‘first movers’ of methanol bunkering due to expected deliveries of methanol-fuelled vessels from 2024, states the Chief Operating Officer at Methanol Institute.

‘With a number of methanol dual-fuel vessels expected to come into service within the next 12 to 16 months, we are expecting physical bunkering opportunities of up to an estimated one million metric tonnes of methanol per annum,” Chris Chatterton told bunkering publication Manifold Times.

“However, currently, approved commercial facilities for methanol bunkering are limited at any of the major ports for any of these newbuilds to refuel.”

According to Chatterton, the lack of methanol bunkering capacity was partly due to methanol dual-fuel vessel owners not having announced where they would choose to safely bunker methanol and what specification of methanol (conventional, lower carbon, or carbon neutral).

The group is still deciding on where to source the material, how to ensure its efficient transportation into the declared port as a bunker fuel, and at a price which supports the business case for switching fuels – allowing them to remain competitive while reducing emissions.

Conventional methanol as a product, based on natural gas, which significantly reduces PM, SOx and NOx, in addition to lowering CO2 by up to 15%, is meanwhile widely available at over 100 international ports due to its legacy as a petrochemical feedstock.

Front view of methanol bunkering pump room with vapour recovery tank - Stena Germanica
Front view of methanol bunkering pump room with vapour recovery tank - Stena Germanica

“Sheer availability of methanol is extremely high. Unfortunately, ‘formally approved’ physical delivery mechanisms of methanol as a bunker fuel, with the exception of Rotterdam and Gothenburg ports, is presently very limited, but expected to change very soon,” he explained.

For example, the Stena Germannica which has been bunkered shore-to-ship since about 2015 without incident very recently began STS bunkering under operations by Methanex, the Port of Gothenburg and tanker operator E&S.

Many methanol, dual-fuel product carriers, such as those of Waterfront Shipping, have been involved with ship-to-ship transfers of methanol as a fuel for some time – since 2016; bunkering methanol in Ulsan, New Plymouth, Geismar, Trinidad, Punta Arenas, Houston, Rotterdam, Onsan and Taicang, to name a few. Proman has also begun bunkering their dual-fuel product carriers in a similar fashion.

“The expected demand is already there, based on the number of dual-fuel methanol vessels on order, so it’s really a situation of bunkering agents and vessel operators coming together to collaborate on how to secure and store methanol bunkers with an appropriate specification and safely transfer them,” he stated.

“The opportunity is out there.”

Methanol Institute, which serves as the trade association for the global methanol industry, estimates low barriers of entry for a bunkering firm to start methanol marine refuelling operations, compared to other alternative fuels.

“Estimates to convert an 8,000 to 10,000 dwt bunkering vessel for methanol bunkering have been pegged at less than EUR 100,000 (USD 108,000),” highlighted Chatterton.

“It’s not as much of a financial commitment to get involved, at least in comparison to other, alternative fuels. Safe handling of methanol is well understood, as a liquid at ambient temperature, with formal training programs readily available.

“Most existing bunkering firms can compete in this market with some training, best practice transfer and minimal investment. After which, coordinating with the local port authority to allow for safe methanol bunkering and then following locally approved guidelines to ensure incident-free bunkering services is critical.”

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Rear view of methanol bunkering pump room complete with low flash point, “fit for purpose” vapour and flame detection technology as well as circuit breakers - Stena Germanica

Photo credit: Gothenburg Port Authority
Published: 1 February, 2023

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