Methanol is a liquid alcohol that can be used as a fuel for ships. Methanol shipping has several advantages over conventional fuels such as heavy fuel oil (HFO) and marine gas oil (MGO), as well as other alternative fuels such as liquefied natural gas (LNG) and hydrogen.
Benefits of Methanol Shipping
- Methanol is a clean-burning fuel that can reduce emissions of sulphur oxides (SOx), nitrogen oxides (NOx), particulate matter (PM) and carbon dioxide (CO2) compared to HFO and MGO. Methanol can also be blended with lower-emission methanol derived from renewable sources such as biomass, biogas or waste, to further lower the carbon footprint of shipping.
- Methanol is an available fuel that can be produced from various feedstocks such as natural gas, coal, biomass or waste. Methanol is also widely traded and distributed around the world, with existing infrastructure and storage facilities in major ports. Methanol can be transported safely and easily by tankers, trucks or pipelines, without the need for cryogenic or high-pressure equipment.
- Methanol is an affordable fuel that has a competitive price compared to other alternative fuels such as LNG and hydrogen. Methanol also has a high energy density, which means less storage space is required on board ships. Methanol can be used in existing engines with minor modifications, or in new engines designed for methanol operation. Methanol can also be used in fuel cells to generate electricity for propulsion or auxiliary power.
Challenges of Methanol
- Methanol is a flammable fuel that requires special safety measures and precautions when handling, storing and using on board ships. Methanol has a low flash point and a wide flammability range, which means it can ignite easily in air. Methanol also has a low viscosity and a high vapour pressure, which means it can leak or evaporate quickly if not properly contained. Methanol also has a low toxicity, but can cause irritation or poisoning if ingested, inhaled or absorbed through the skin.
- Methanol is a regulated fuel that requires compliance with international and regional standards and regulations when used as a marine fuel. Methanol is subject to the International Code of Safety for Ships using Gases or other Low-flashpoint Fuels (IGF Code), which provides mandatory provisions for the design, construction, operation and maintenance of ships using low-flashpoint fuels. Methanol is also subject to the IMO interim guidelines for ships using methyl or ethyl alcohol as fuel (MSC.1/Circ.1621), which provide additional recommendations and best practices for methanol-fuelled ships.
Methanol is a potential alternative fuel for shipping that can offer environmental, economic and operational benefits over conventional and other alternative fuels. However, methanol also poses some challenges and risks that need to be addressed and managed carefully. Methanol is gaining traction as a shipping fuel largely because of new regulations at the IMO and in Europe that aim to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the maritime sector. Several shipowners, shipyards and fuel suppliers have expressed interest in methanol-fuelled vessels, and some have already ordered or delivered such vessels. Methanol is expected to become