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Sea Commerce: ‘Why the time has come for Methanol as a marine fuel’

13 Apr 2023

Sea Commerce organized its 15th global seminar on methanol as a marine fuel with the support of the Association of Turkish Coaster Owners & Operators (KOSDER) and sponsorship by the Methanol Institute in Istanbul on 7 March 2023.

The event provided an update on the uptake of methanol as a marine fuel and its growing acceptance by shipowners. With technological and regulatory challenges associated with methanol as a marine fuel largely resolved, orders for 23 dual fuel/methanol-powered ships have been ordered in February bringing the orderbook to 106 ships.

Mrs Pinar Kalkavan Sesel, Chairperson of KOSDER, highlighted the new regulations impacting on the maritime industry:

“These regulations have come into effect as emissions from ships, which increase in line with the demand for maritime transport have increased. The aim of these regulations passed by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) to reduce the growth of emissions rate within set timescales puts the maritime sector into a serious adaptation process.”

Methanol, which is frequently described as one of the most mature alternative marine fuels, is also promising to be the marine fuel of the future. Methanol has been in the maritime industry for more than a century and safely carried as a cargo for decades. Only lately has it been seen as the ideal fuel for the maritime industry to help meet the IMO’s carbon emissions and intensity reduction goals by 2050.

The seminar also highlighted the efforts that the maritime sector is making on an international scale to operate sustainably thereby helping to decrease adverse climate events which have many negative social, environmental and industrial impacts.

Mrs Pinar Kalkavan Sesel thanked Capt. Alavi for facilitating KOSDER’s participation at the event. This was the 15th methanol awareness event organized by Sea Commerce. Earlier, at the start of the seminar, the organizers and participants paid their respects to those who died or suffered from the terrible earthquake and prayed for them and the welfare of those who survived.

International Maritime Organization regulations on handling methanol are well developed within the IGF Code and the Methyl/Ethyl Interim Guidelines. Still to come could be rules for methanol bunkering and standards for fuel quality.

While revisions to the IMO’s 2050 targets are still currently being debated, it is widely agreed that a full life cycle approach will be taken when evaluating the GHG performance of future fuels. This is expected to lead methanol production towards recycled carbon feedstocks and generation technologies that involve renewable energy.

Taking a lifecycle approach that includes Scope Three emissions including the energy necessary to create the hydrogen from which methanol is produced, e-methanol does have a carbon footprint but it is about 20 times less than marine gasoil, LNG, or methanol produced from natural gas, and about three times less than green methanol produced from biomass.

Today, methanol made from natural gas offers a lifecycle greenhouse gas reduction of 5%- 15% compared to diesel as well as immediate reductions in sulfur oxides (SOx), nitrogen oxides (NOx), and particulate matter.

Methanol offers a 2% lower fuel consumption per kWh than diesel fuel, and engine corrosion and fuel slip are not an issue due to the high combustion rate achieved by engine designers. 

MAN Energy Solutions is among those who believe that Methanol is one is one of the most viable pathways for decarbonizing shipping as it can provide carbon neutrality when produced from renewable energy in connection with biogenic CO2.

A study conducted by Imperial College London Consultants (October 2021) on European biomass availability concludes that “the potential availability of sustainable biomass, with no harm to biodiversity, could support an advanced and waste-based biofuel production of up to 175 Mtoe in 2050. In other words, European sustainable biomass alone could more or less support the global marine requirement of 178mt for biomass.”

Currently, Methanol mostly in conventional form is available in over 100 ports globally.

The Methanol Institute, in discussing the European Union’s ‘Fit for 55’, measures aimed at reducing 55% of carbon emissions by 2030, suggested that the revision of electricity market could positively impact e-methanol availability with 10bn liters or 8m tonnes per year potentially available by 2027.

Wartsila, with 10 years’ experience of methanol engine development and operation, felt that “The technology is robust and proven in the marine environment with excellent performance”. Proof of concept remains Stena Germanica -the first non-tanker methanol powered vessel which was converted in 2015 with Wärtislä Sulzer ZA40S engines and continues to perform without any issues.

A large dual-fuel two-stroke engine running on methanol could cost up to $4m more on a newbuilding and up to U$9m more for retrofit (assuming the parent engine cost is about US$4-5 million, based on figures from MAN Energy Solutions.

These costs are partially mitigated because the engine can be Tier III compliant without the need for an exhaust gas recirculation system (US$1m) or a selective catalytic converter (US$1m). The need to continually run air compressors to support these after-treatment systems adds further to their cost.

Experience to date has shown that operating a dual-fuel methanol engine can add about 5% to Opex due to training and maintenance. However the technology behind using Methanol as a fuel is well proven and has been in service since 2016. Combined with the fact that no cryogenic equipment is needed and the supply pressure is only 13 bar.

Uzmar Shipbuilding expressed the view that the main challenge in designing a methanol powered tugboat was to accommodate various equipment in very limited space onboard. This was achieved with combination of guidance from the classification society and designers experienced on alternative fuel applications.

There are STCW training requirements for crews — basic IGF Code training for seafarers and advanced training for masters and engineers. In addition, MAN ES recommends proprietary training on its ME-LGIM engine.

Sea Commerce focused on the bunkering aspect of the methanol supply chain. Unlike the competing cryogenic fuels (LNG, Ammonia, and Hydrogen) where a completely new bunkering infrastructure setup is required, methanol bunkering is similar to existing LSFO/MGO bunkering operation with very minor, low cost modifications necessary to existing bunkering delivery infrastructure including trucks and barges.

For example; a cost of the LNG bunkering ship of 7500 CuM (abt 3400 ts) costs run close to US$38-40 million compared to methanol bunkering vessels where the cost for a 3,000 tonnes (3,000cum) are about US$8-10 million (based on China shipyard prices). It is also feasible to convert an existing Type three tanker already employed as a bunkering vessel to methanol supply, at a cost US$0.5-1m depending on the region or area where the conversion is done.

Sea Commerce approached The Indian Register of Shipping (IRClass) to undertake a gap analysis on the conversion of existing bunkering vessels to partially or fully carry methanol and what is required to comply with SOLAS and IBC Code requirements. The presentation reflected a detailed analysis of converting an existing 5,000t (Type 3) bunkering vessel.

Speakers at the seminar “Rise of Methanol as a Future Proof Marine Fuel” were Rafik Ammar, Public and Govt. Affairs EU at Methanol Institute; Dagfinn Lunde, Partner at DAGMAR; Elif Ceren Gülcek, Board member at Turkish Shipyard Association (GISBIR); Vijay Arora, Managing Director at Indian Register of Shipping; Prof. Dr. Mustafa İnsel, Business Development Manager at Hidroteknik Nautical Design Ltd; Nalan Erol, Shipyard R&D Leader at UZMAR Shipyard; Toni Stojcevski, General Manager Large Projects at Wartsila; Pavel Chernyshov, Co-Founder/Partner at Arkview Capital; Jorgen Vedsted, Manager, Sales & Promotion at MAN Energy Solutions and Saleem Alavi, President, Sea Commerce America.

The event was moderated by Mustafa Murtahoglu, Partner at Energy Petrol and Constantine Orphanos, Sales and Purchase at Oceanus Tankers.

Captain Saleem Alavi is president of Sea Commerce America


Photo credit: Sea Commerce
Published: 13 April, 2023

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