A new series of free industry seminars that is touring the world promoting the use of methanol as a marine fuel has highlighted the growing interest in the fuel.
Over 225 participants joined the seminar held in India and organised by Sea Commerce Consulting and Institute of Marine Engineers of India (IMEI) with support from FedCom, Methanex Corporation, Methanol Institute, along with the classification societies ABS and IRS.
Captain Saleem Alavi, Sea Commerce Consulting’s president and organiser of the seminar series realised there was a lack of awareness in the maritime industry regarding methanol as a useful marine fuel. This is despite the fuel being used in at least eight large vessels with four more on order, all on international trades.
“Methanol processed using natural gas as a feedstock has a similar emissions profile as liquid natural gas but does not need storing in cryogenic tanks like LNG”, said Captain Alavi. He also pointed to custody transfers for bunker suppliers being much easier for methanol versus LNG, the methanol being more readily available globally, as well as the ease of handling in the supply chain.
Methanol is already an industrial feedstock with a mature supply chain infrastructure, which would make the development of a bunker supply for shipping much easier than for LNG, which has been singled out by critics for the difficulties in developing a suitable bunker supply network and the need to build dedicated bunker vessels.
Vancouver-based Methanex, the industrial methanol producer and owner of Waterfront Shipping, highlighted the low environmental footprint of methanol and the attractive capital and operational costs. The fuel has a relatively low cost compared with gas oil and can be stored through the easy conversion of existing bunker tanks. According to Methanex vice president Global Market Development Ben Iosefa, the price of methanol in India in terms of energy value has been approximately 20 per cent cheaper than marine gas oil (MGO) and with future expectations of higher MGO prices, this cost benefit is likely to be significantly higher following the introduction of the new IMO 2020 sulphur regulations.
Stena Line, the Gothenburg, Sweden-based ferry and ro-ro operator, has been successfully operating one of its European ferries, Stena Germanica, on methanol, following the conversion of two of its engines.
Mark Penfold, manager at ABS Global Gas Solutions, highlighted how well positioned methanol is as a suitable solution. However, he was amongst the experts that said methanol as a fuel has been behind LNG in terms of regulatory development and public awareness.
Captain Alavic conclude: “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 public awareness.”
Cdr Sandeep Kumar (Retd.), surveyor with the Indian Register of Shipping in Mumbai summarised the seminar with an overview of the advantages and challenges of using methanol as marine fuel. He emphasised the need for adequate risk assessment, based on a 2014 report from the European Maritime Safety Agency.
Capt Alavi said: “We are planning more of these seminars in key maritime areas during 2019 in a bid to raise awareness of the fuel and to create a robust debate about the alternatives available for commercial shipping.
“It is important that shipowners and other key industry players such as those in finance, insurance and ship design understand the range of possibilities as they look to find answers to the tough questions facing global shipping between 2020 and 2050, answers that will undoubtedly call for new fuel solutions”.