Could Methanol Be The Green Fuel of The Future for Shipping? 


Following shipping giant Maersk’s announcement of its methanol-powered container ship, the International Council on Clean Transportation comments on the project, assessing methanol’s environmental benefits and discussing what the future of the industry should hold, says an article published in Shiptechnology.

The world’s first methanol powered vessel

 Maersk announced the world’s first methanol-powered shipping vessel in June, representing a steppingstone towards the industry’s goals to reduce its environmental impact. 

Green methanol – fuel of the future

The company said at the time that it believes that green methanol is the fuel of the future. Could vessels such as this one, which is currently in development, be the next big thing for the industry? 

ICCT aims to elevate environment

Founded in 2001, the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT) is an independent, non-profit organisation that aims to improve the environmental performance and energy efficiency of marine, road and air transportation to benefit public health and reduce the impacts of climate change. 

We speak to ICCT marine programme lead Bryan Comer to find out more about the benefits of methanol use and what more the industry could do to reduce its environmental impact. 

Frankie Youd: What are your views on the recent announcement on Maersk’s methanol vessel?

Bryan Comer:  We’ve seen that Maersk has taken an interest in not waiting for the regulatory community to force the transition to new fuels and technologies. They have tried to get ahead of the curve and try out some new possibilities for fuels and engines, and what can be used to transition from completely fossil fuel ships where we are today to zero-emission vessels which is where we need to go. 

I was pleased to see that they were considering looking at a way to power their ships with net-zero emissions. There’s been some differing opinions about how to achieve the transition from fossil fuel ships to zero-emission vessels. There’s a number of different possibilities for fuelling large container ships. 

Should look at upstream emissions

What’s really important is to look at not only the emissions that come out of the exhaust but also the emissions associated with creating the fuel in the first place. While methanol, if it’s going to be burned in an engine, is going to have some direct emissions of carbon dioxide and other pollutants, we need to look at the upstream emissions and figure out how the methanol was made. Is it legitimate to call it net-zero emissions or low emissions or not? I think that’s the key question here is how is the methanol that they’re going to use going to be produced and does it actually have bona fide climate credentials.

Not all methanol is carbon neutral. Could you explain this?

When we say ‘green’ methanol, people might interpret that in different ways. I think it’s really important to do the lifecycle analysis and do the maths, share the work, explain the assumptions, and then let external experts review that and comment upon it. 

The question for methanol is where has the carbon, that’s in the methanol itself, come from? Is it from some sort of plant-based material, is it some waste-based material from animals, or manure, or is it from the air, is it direct air capture? Even if you know the answer to those questions, not all bio-sources are created equal. Some are driving deforestation and others aren’t, the ones that aren’t are very expensive. If you’re going to do direct air capture, that’s also quite expensive as well.

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Source: Shiptechnology



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