Alternative Bunker Fuels Viable But Questions Linger: Industry Sources
Many shipowners will go into 2020 unprepared for the International Maritime Organization’s 0.5% global sulfur cap for marine bunker fuels, panelists said at the Connecticut Maritime Association conference as questions remain about potential alternatives.
“Are we going to rely on LNG … are we going to go down the route of methanol, are we going to include more biofuels and what about innovative fuels that nobody has come up with yet?” Michael Green, global technical manager for bunker fuel testing at Intertek Lintec, said Wednesday.
The IMO said in 2008 that all ships were required to use fuels with a maximum 0.5% sulfur content from January 1, 2020.
Two popular alternatives to fuel oil are methanol and LNG.
LOW ENERGY DENSITY
Methanol can be made from any carbon source, including captured carbon dioxide and even by gasifying municipal solid waste. China, which consumes about 50% of the world’s methanol, produces it from coal.
One of the most important aspects of methanol is that it contains no sulfur content and is also readily available.
“Methanol is one of the most widely shipped chemical commodities, any port in the world that has chemical storage tanks, we’ve got methanol there,” said Greg Dolan, CEO of the Methanol Institute.
Methanol is also bio-degradable, and has a half-life of 1-6 days in case of a spill. Nitrous oxide emissions are 60% lower than those from fuel oil.
Waterfront Shipping, a wholly owned subsidiary of Methanex Corporation, has seven methanol-fueled chemical tankers under charter, Jason Chesko, senior manager of Global Market Development at Methanex Corporation, pointed out.
Methanol tracks oil prices keeping it competitive against fuel oil, he added.
It is easy to store as it does not require special tanks. The Stena Germanica, the world’s first methanol-fueled ferry, stores it in its double-bottom tank.
There are, however, some drawbacks such as its low energy density, half the energy content of diesel, meaning twice the volume is required.
Sufficient supply could be hard to come by as well as a switch to methanol as bunker fuel would double global demand, Dolan pointed out.
A 5% diesel content is required for methanol bunker fuel to be used as a “pilot fuel”, meaning that the ship’s engines would need to burn diesel before switching to methanol.
The ship would require to modify its engine but the incremental cost was quite modest, Chesko said.
LOWER EMISSIONS, HIGHER COSTS
The movement toward a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions favors LNG as a bunker fuel, Aziz Bamik, general manager of GTT North America, said.
There are no particulates, no sulfur oxide, almost no nitrous oxide and reduced carbon dioxide from burning LNG, he added.
There are currently 100 LNG-fueled ships and an additional 101 on order as of February 2017, Gerd-Michael Wuersig, business director for LNG-fueled ships at DNV GL, said. The majority of those at sea, 57%, were in Norway but most new orders were from outside the country, he added.
Sovcomflot had LNG-fueled tankers built and had 11 cruise ships were on order as well, he said.
A lack of infrastructure was a problem for LNG, tied mainly to the high cost of building LNG storage and terminals. Another concern was the price as it would never be cheaper than fuel oil, he added.
Additional tank space would be needed on the ship to accommodate LNG, 1.8-2 times more room would be needed if a ship switches from fuel oil to LNG, Bamik said.
For now, scrubbers that remove sulfur emissions from high sulfur fuel oil appeared to be the likely solution, according to the speakers.
As January 1, 2020 approaches, there was likely to be a rush to install scrubbers on ships, said Adrian Tolson, senior partner at 20/20 Marine Energy., which Wuersig added that for the time being, scrubbers were more popular than alternative fuels.
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