The colourless, flammable liquid methanol is a compelling candidate to power the enormous ships that travel across the globe. Methanol is an economical, safe, and proven marine fuel that can meet or surpass both present and future emissions limits, making it a viable option for the shipping sector.
Methanol as a Marine Fuel
Methanol is an organic chemical. It is known as the simplest aliphatic alcohol. The term “wood alcohol” refers to methanol’s historical primary method of production—the destructive distillation of wood. These days, hydrogenating carbon monoxide is the primary industrial process used to create methanol. It was primarily utilized as a chemical basis in the past to produce a wide range of goods, including building materials and pharmaceutical and medicinal items.
Methanol is a liquid at atmospheric pressure.
Actually, chemical carriers have traditionally transported methyl alcohol, or methanol, as cargo. However, shipowners, builders, and fuel providers have only lately begun to recognise methanol as a viable alternative fuel for reducing vessel emissions.
Coal or natural gas are the feedstocks used to make grey and brown methanol. Instead of using natural gas, collected carbon and renewable power or green hydrogen are used to make low-carbon, or blue, methanol. Green methanol is methanol produced from renewable energy and renewable sources.
Green methanol’s primary advantage is that it emits less CO2 when burned than diesel and less SOx and NOx when burned in comparison to heavy fuel oil (HFO)
Popularization of Methanol in Industry
Since 2021, methanol has garnered a lot of interest as a substitute ship fuel. Shipowners requesting methanol-fueled vessels have found it easier to do so since the IMO interim standards for ships utilizing methyl or ethyl alcohol as fuel (MSC.1/Circ.1621) were adopted.
EXI and CII ratings may be significantly impacted by converting your vessel to run on methanol. Since tailpipe CO2 emissions are the main focus of EEXI and CII, models show that methanol can lower ratings on both indices by as much as 7%. Taking into account green methanol and the potential IMO well-to-tank strategy, a reduction of up to 88% ought to be achievable, contingent upon the fuel’s source.
Methanol is a superior option for a variety of vessel types and longer trips since it requires less frequent bunkering than other fuels like ammonia or hydrogen. It also has a larger volumetric energy content.
Methanol’s ability to operate as a liquid in natural environments sets it apart from other alternative fuels, and this is one of its most significant advantages. This makes it simple to transport, store, and bunker methanol using common safety protocols that are comparable to the tried-and-true protocols for diesel. As a result, compared to other alternative fuels that need pressurization or cryogenics, the cost of converting diesel engines to methanol dual-fuel boats and land-based infrastructure to store and supply methanol is far lower.
Under the IBC Code, methanol is a commodity that is traded extensively and is backed by a robust network of ports and infrastructure. Accessible at more than 125 of the biggest ports globally, methanol’s application as a marine fuel can assist the shipping sector in adhering to ever-tougher air pollution standards.
The technology for handling methanol is advanced; two-stroke primary engines and four-stroke auxiliary methanol engines are available.
Methanol requires cargo tanks 2.5 times larger than they are now since it has a lower energy content than marine gasoil (MGO) from an operational standpoint. Also, Green methanol is still not widely available at the scale that the maritime industry needs.
Methanol has a low flash point, is poisonous, and is flammable. Additionally, consideration must be given to the dispersion of methanol vapour in clouds and their behaviour, and extra care must be made. If exposed to significant amounts, methanol, like many volatile compounds, including petrol and ethanol, can have negative effects on the skin, eyes, and lungs. If treatment for persistent exposure to such external levels is not received, individuals may experience long-term systemic health problems comparable to low-grade methanol poisoning.
The question of how much shipowners will have to pay to use blue or green methanol as fuel and to routinely refuel arises, as it does with all alternative fuels. Because the storage, handling, and power conversion systems of ships come with specific CAPEX expenses.
Other Uses of Methanol
Some of the sprint race cars and other dirt track series like World of Outlaws and Motorcycle Speedway are mandated by rule to use only pure methanol due to the fact that it does not produce an opaque cloud of smoke in the event of an accident. Methanol has also been the main fuel element in radio control, control line and free flight model aircraft powerplants since the late 1940s.
China and India are two countries where methanol is increasingly employed as a cooking fuel since a stove and canister don’t require pipelines or regulators.
Methanol fuel cells are commonly used in both fixed and mobile applications, including power plant generation, emergency power supply, auxiliary power units (APUs), backup power generation, and battery range extension for electric vehicles and ships.