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BIG CHALLENGES - Any way you look at it, the problems facing the shipping industry have been magnified by the fact that there has been little investment in anything other than big internal combustion engines.
Methanol is a fuel that can be used in heat engines and fuel cells, hence is versatile in application. Due to its high octane rating it can be used directly as a fuel in flex-fuel cars (including hybrid and plug-in hybrid vehicles) using existing internal combustion engines (ICE). Methanol can also be burned in some other kinds of engine or to provide heat as other liquid fuels are used.
Fuel cells, can use methanol either directly in Direct Methanol Fuel Cells (DMFC) or indirectly (after conversion into hydrogen by reforming).
Direct-methanol fuel cells or DMFCs are a subcategory of proton-exchange fuel cells in which methanol is used as the fuel. Their main advantage is the ease of transport of methanol, an energy-dense yet reasonably stable liquid at all environmental conditions.
INTERNAL COMBUSTION ENGINES
A drawback of alcohol fuels such as methanol is that energy contents are lower than for traditional fuels. Given equivalent energy density, the space needed for storing methanol in a tank will be approximately twice that of traditional diesel fuels. Methanol and LNG are similar in terms of energy density.
Regarding other emissions, sulfur is not present in methanol but may be released in small amounts in the upstream processes, depending on the energy carrier used for processing and transport. The emissions from the vessel are related to the sulfur content in the diesel quality fuels. NOx emissions are low from the engines using methane and methanol because of a low combustion temperature and well-defined fuels. In order to make a fuel attractive for shipping, there has to be an adequate infrastructure that covers a large number of ports.
Bunkering of ships can be carried out by bunkering vessels as well as from land, and for both solutions there is a need for terminals that provide fuel. The infrastructure for methanol available today is based on the worldwide distribution of methanol to the chemical industry. This ensures widespread availability, although there may be a need for additional terminals for ship fuel. Within the SECAs, there are numerous terminals that serve the chemical industry.
The production cost of methanol is dependent on the raw material and production process. The processes that produce methanol via synthesis gas can be run with many raw materials, both fossil and renewable. For renewable raw material, a difference in production cost will arise from the upstream chain, that is, raw material
acquisition. Methanol is an attractive alternative from the point of view of fuel storage and bunkering infrastructure costs. Additionally, methanol is modular, allowing shipping companies to start with relatively modest investments and build up gradually as more ships convert to the fuel. As a fuel, methanol has been cost-competitive for the better part of the past five years but is currently at a disadvantage compared with low-sulfur marine gas oil.
The code will be called: The International Code of Safety for ships using gas or other low flash-point fuels (IGF Code). In 2013 the classification society Den Norske Veritas (DNV) released a new set of tentative regulations for marine vessels regarding low flashpoint fuels, which includes methanol. Methanol is difficult to ignite in an ordinary diesel engine. There are today two leading engine manufactures developing large marine engines compatible to run on methanol. The first one is Wartsila who are focused on developing four-stroke diesel cycle engines (Danbratt & Haraldson, 2013). The second company is MAN Diesel Turbo which is focused on remodelling their two-stroke diesel cycle engines to be methanol compatible.
When comparing investment costs for a methanol powered vessel and an LNG powered vessel the methanol vessel will be less expensive. This is because a methanol vessel don’t need expensive high pressure fuel tanks and a very advanced fuel delivery system. From an environmental point of view, methanol performs well. Methanol readily dissolves in water and is biodegraded rapidly, as most micro-organisms have the ability to oxidize methanol. In practice, this means that the environmental effects of a large spill would be much lower than from an equivalent oil spill.
S&P GLOBAL NOVEMBER 2019
Shipping companies face a significant rise in costs when the International Maritime Organization's global 0.5% bunker sulfur cap comes into effect next year, with 0.5% sulfur bunker prices currently at a premium of about $230/mtto high sulfur fuel oil at Rotterdam. Delegates at the European Methanol Summit in Dusseldorf this week saw the upcoming changes for shipping as an opportunity for methanol to gain traction as an alternative bunker fuel.
"Methanol demand may grow at a reduced rate over the next two years because of the global slowdown," Hanna Sukhu-Maharaj, commercial manager of Trinidad-based methanol supplier MHTL, said at the conference. "But I think in the medium to long term, the substitution of conventional bunker fuels offers great potential for methanol."
Methanol produces negligible sulfur, nitrogen and particulate matter emissions when burned, and has reduced carbon dioxide emissions compared with conventional bunker fuels.
Methanol barge prices at Rotterdam have been $228/mt lower than 0.5% sulfur marine fuel barges over the past month. But given methanol's lower energy density, methanol prices by energy content worked out marginally higher, at $10.43/GJ for methanol versus $10.05/GJ for 0.5% sulfur bunkers.
MHTL's sister company Proman Shipping last month announced a joint venture with Sweden's Stena Bulk to jointly own and operate two new methanol carriers that are also methanol-fueled. The ships will each consume about 13,000 mt/year of methanol, MHTL's Sukhu-Maharaj said Wednesday.
S&P Global Platts Analytics forecasts LNG bunker demand may grow to as much as 15 million mt/year over the next decade.
Delegates at the methanol conference stressed that both the delivery infrastructure and the alterations needed on board ships were much cheaper for methanol than for LNG. But they pointed out the much greater size of the LNG industry gave it more marketing and lobbying power to promote its use in shipping.
One supplier also said the current focus on scrubbers in shipping -- emissions-cleaning equipment that allows a ship to continue burning dirtier fuels - was holding back the market for alternative bunker fuels
"Scrubbers are killing this market for us," the supplier said.
Beyond 2020, the next challenge for the whole of the bunker market will be to determine what energy sources canbe used to comply with the IMO's initial strategy for the reduction of greenhouse gases (GHGs). Last year, the IMO adopted a strategy of cutting carbon dioxide emissions per ship by at least 40% from 2008's levels by 2030, while cutting the shipping industry's total GHG emissions by at least 50% by 2050.
Using conventional methanol derived from natural gas as a bunker fuel, in conjunction with measures to maximizefuel efficiency, may be enough to meet the 2030 target, but will be insufficient for the IMO's 2050 goals.
But renewable methanol, derived from biomass or carbon dioxide combined with hydrogen, could be an energy source with low enough net GHG emissions. This would be likely to be much more expensive than conventional bunker fuels, but that would also be the case for any solution in line with the IMO's 2050 strategy.
Remko Detz, a scientist in the energy transitional studies unit of Dutch research organization TNO, said pricesfor renewable methanol should come down sharply towards 2050, and could be competitive with conventional methanol by2035 or before. This estimate is based on significant additions in renewable power capacity worldwide, as electricity is needed to create the hydrogen needed to make the fuel.
THE METHANOL ECONOMY
LINKS & REFERENCES
DIRECT - This diagram shows how a methanol fuel cell works.
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