Is methanol the future of maritime fuels?

It’s not a secret anymore that the shipping industry today is facing some serious challenges with respect to meeting upcoming exhaust gas emissions regulations. The contribution from shipping to sulphur oxide (SOx) and nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions today is considerable, thus the need for reductions. Three main alternatives – switching to low-sulphur fuels, installing exhaust after-treatment devices, e.g. scrubbers, or using natural gas – have been investigated to some extent, but very little information is available on methanol as a marine fuel.
Methanol is a clean fuel
Methanol does not contain sulphur. Emissions of particulate matter and NOx from methanol combustion in marine engines are expected to be lower than those resulting from the combustion of conventional fuels. Methanol is widely available, can be safely transported and distributed using existing infrastructure, and in 2012 it is currently much cheaper than marine distillate fuel based on energy content. It can be produced from both renewable and non-renewable feedstocks, as well as by recycling CO2 from flue gases or capture and recycling of atmospheric CO2. When “green” methanol becomes more widely available it will help ship operators meet greenhouse gas reduction targets and move shipping to a fossil fuel free and low-carbon future.

Methanol as a marine fuel
The Baltic Sea is part of a designated Sulphur Emission Control Area (SECA) where the maximum allowable sulphur content in marine fuels will be reduced to 0.1% in 2015. To help meet these requirements, as well as for other environmental reasons, in 2012 several companies and governmental agencies partnered to form SPIRETH (“Alcohol (SPIRits) and ETHers as marine fuel”), a full-scale pilot project for testing the application of methanol and DME as sulphur-free marine fuels. The project is expected to be completed in March 2014, less than one year from now. Should project results be positive, as expected, another driver of the fuel methanol market is likely to emerge, broadening the base for methanol producers around the world. The main goal of the project is to test methanol and di-methyl ether (DME) in a full scale pilot project, to contribute to finding the best environmental and economic alternative for a sustainable and successful maritime transport industry.
But before the shipping industry can use methanol fuel two preconditions must be fulfilled: the respective engine must be available and new rules for low flashpoint maritime fuels must be developed.
MAN developing methanol engines for Methanex ships
On 1 July, 2013, MAN Diesel & Turbo announced the development of a new ME-LGI dual fuel engine for Waterfront Shipping, which is wholly owned by the world’s largest methanol producer, Methanex. The engine expands the company’s dual-fuel portfolio, enabling the use of more sustainable fuels such as Methanol and Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG). The engines will run on a blend of 95% Methanol and 5% Diesel. Should Methanol-based marine fuels deliver the anticipated emissions and fuel cost reductions, it could usher in a new era in shipping and bolster demand for methanol around the world.
MAN developed the ME-LGI engine in response to interest from the shipping world in operating on alternatives to heavy fuel oil. Methanol and LPG carriers have already operated at sea for many years and many more LPG tankers are currently being built as the global LPG infrastructure grows. With a viable, convenient and economic fuel already on-board, exploiting a fraction of the cargo to power a vessel makes sense with another important factor being the benefit to the environment. MAN Diesel & Turbo states that it is already working towards a Tier-III-compatible ME-LGI version.
The four G50ME-LGI units are targeted for the end of 2013, with engine delivery to follow in the summer of 2015.
DNV first with new rules for low flashpoint maritime fuels
DNV (Det Norske Veritas) release rules for using low flashpoint fuels such as methanol for bunker fuel. Interest for methanol as ship fuel is growing in response to the need to reduce NOx and SOx emissions. However, with a flashpoint of just 12°C, it poses safety challenges, and DNV’s new notation, an industry first, covers every aspect of safe design.
Methanol is most commonly produced from natural gas but it can also be produced from a wide range of biomass. It has a lower flashpoint than conventional fuel, so additional safety barriers are required. Flashpoint is the lowest temperature at which a volatile liquid can vaporize to form an ignitable mixture in air.
Methanol has a relatively low flashpoint, is toxic when it comes into contact with the skin or when inhaled or ingested and its vapour is denser than air. As a result of these properties, additional safety barriers are required by DNV.
The new mandatory notation LFL FUELLED covers aspects such as materials, arrangement, fire safety, electrical systems, control and monitoring, machinery components and some ship segment specific considerations.

MAN ME-LGI engine


Image / graph: courtesy of MAN and DNV

Comments (5) -

Pure methanol or a mixed fuel?

- Definitely an elevated safety hazard - methanol is heavier than air and has a flash point of 11-12 deg C, so can easily flow into bilges and go bang.

- Methanol has a high toxicity in humans. If as little as 10 mL of pure methanol is ingested, for example, it can break down into formic acid, which can cause permanent blindness by destruction of the optic nerve, and 30 mL is potentially fatal, so special handling needed.

- Methanol is very hygroscopic, so the lower heating value (LHV) will decrease over time as the water content increases.

- LHV Methanol = 20.094 MJ/kg LNG = 48.632 MJ/kg Gasoline = 43.448 MJ/kg LS Diesel = 42.612 MJ/kg, so you need twice the mass to go the same distance.

- Engines will require major overhaul to accommodate spark ignition (unless dual fuel) and may require toughened components to cope with reduced fuel lubricity.

Not my most obvious choice.

James Ashworth |     8/14/2013 10:35:39 AM #

Hi James
Do have a source regarding the energy content of LNG. What I can find is considerably lower than what you write.

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Ripped X Burn And Muscle Max |     8/14/2013 12:37:02 PM #

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Xtreme Nitro |     8/15/2013 1:10:25 PM #

The future of Marine (steam or electic) propulsion, and of global electrical power is the LFTR reactor.

See "Thorium Energy Cheaper Than Coal" by Robert Hargraves

"Super Fuel - Thorium, the Green Energy Source for the Future" by Richard Martin

Visit FLIBE Energy and see this presentation by Kirk Sorenson:
Or this reference to the same lecture:
Thorium: An energy solution - THORIUM REMIX 2011 - YouTube

James Gerard |     8/19/2013 8:38:03 PM #

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