Methanol (also known as methyl alcohol or wood alcohol) is an organic chemical and the simplest aliphatic alcohol with the formula CH3OH (methyl group attached to a hydroxyl group, often abbreviated as MeOH).
At atmospheric pressure, methanol is a liquid.
The two types of methanol are fossil and renewable, respectively.
Coal or natural gas is used to create fossil methanol. By mixing biomass or collected CO2 with green hydrogen, renewable methanol may be produced.
Methanol is a colourless liquid, but colour names are used to indicate its constituents.
- Green methanol is produced from biomass or captured CO2 and green hydrogen
- Blue hydrogen combined with carbon capture technology is used to create blue methanol
- Gray methanol is made from natural gas
- Brown methanol is made from coal
Green methanol is produced renewable and emission-free. Its variation uses green hydrogen as a fuel.
To dramatically minimise carbon emissions from source to tank, blue methanol is made utilising blue hydrogen and carbon capture technologies. Grey methanol is made from natural gas, so it can’t significantly reduce your well-to-wake carbon emissions.
Brown methanol is made from coal, it may not significantly reduce well-to-wake CO2 emissions.
Methanol as Marine Fuel:
Methanol has been tested on land and in heavy-duty vehicles with good results, making it an interesting alternative fuel for transportation. Methanol is a safe, proven and cost-effective marine fuel for the merchant marine industry that meets or exceeds current and planned emissions regulations.
When tested with methanol fuel in marine diesel engines, nitrogen oxide and particulate emissions are very low, and there are no sulphur oxide emissions since methanol does not contain sulphur. Nitrogen oxide levels are low and correspond to Stage III NOx emissions (2-4 g/kWh). Using alcohol fuel may produce formaldehyde. Methanol emission measurements show no measurable formaldehyde formation (MAN 2015b). Engine efficiency while using methanol is on par with or higher than that of traditional fuels. Shipping accounts for about 3% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, increasing global demand for low-emission marine fuels.
- Methanol is a liquid product and can be safely transported, stored and replenished following standard safety procedures
- Dual fuel engine technology is already available
- Green methanol (including bio-methanol and e-methanol) is compatible with current methanol dual-fuel engine technology, offering a clear path to decarbonization without future investment or compatibility issues increase
- Compared to traditional marine fuels, methanol can cut SOx, PM, and NOx emissions by more than 95% and up to 80%, respectively.
- On a lifetime basis, bio methanol and e-methanol may be produced carbon neutral.
- Compared to other fuels, using ordinary methanol can cut CO2 emissions by up to 15%. On a lifetime basis, it becomes carbon neutral by using bio methanol or e-methanol.
- Methanol is available at 120 ports
Methanol also has a higher volumetric energy content and less frequent refuelling than alternative fuels such as ammonia or hydrogen, making it suitable for a wide variety of ship types and long voyages.
Methanol as a Fuel (Advantages):
Cost efficient: methanol is described as a more economical solution as it is a low-cost marine fuel based on an energy equivalent to other low-sulphur marine fuels. The introduction of methanol dual-fuel engine technology allows shippers to operate cost-effectively regardless of market conditions and diversify their fuel options. Ship owners can choose to use the most cost-effective fuel, thus meeting increasingly stringent air pollution regulations.
Infrastructure: converting ships to use methanol fuel is considered easier and cheaper than other alternative fuels. Some believe that costs can be reduced by up to 25%. This means that only minimal changes to storage and bunker structures are required when retrofitting methanol vessels.
Emissions: compared to other alternative fuels, methanol is considered a clean-burning fuel that eliminates pollutant emissions. That way, no methane is released into the atmosphere.
Compared to LNG, methanol is readily available and derived from renewable resources. One of the unique and important properties of methanol over other alternative fuels is that it is a liquid fuel under ambient conditions. This allows methanol to be easily transported, stored and refuelled using standard safety procedures similar to established Diesel 3 procedures. Therefore, methanol ships and the onshore infrastructure for storing and delivering methanol cost less than other alternative fuels that require pressurization or cryogenic temperatures. Additionally, methanol is more environmentally friendly than other options as it dissolves in water and biodegrades quickly. Methanol can only be produced from renewable sources such as solar, wind, biomass and carbon from power plants or directly from the air. It is liquid and relatively easy to handle, and existing storage tanks can be reused. It is widespread and has the advantage of being sulphur-free and burning almost completely. Additionally, methanol can be used in existing infrastructure with minor modifications. It can also significantly reduce CO2 emissions by 65-95% compared to conventional fuels, depending on the manufacturing method. Most of the methanol in use today is still conventionally produced from natural gas, but it has great potential as a CO2-neutral feedstock for the ocean energy transition. The infrastructure and engine technology already exist. The current challenge is to develop production from green hydrogen and carbon capture. Production costs are initially higher than other alternative fuels such as B. Synthetic Natural Gas (SNG), which has lower processing costs.
Since many industries have been using it as a basic chemical for decades, methanol is easily handled and transported at normal temperatures and pressure. That is, its storage, handling and properties are known and documented. Toxicity and corrosiveness are the only issues preventing its use as a fuel for automobiles.
Methanol as a Fuel (Disadvantages):
It has a low flash point, is corrosive, and is miscible with water. Twice as much space is required to produce the same amount of energy as conventional bunker fuel, resulting in lower volumetric energy content. Due to its high density and low calorific value, a methanol fuel tank is approximately 2.5 times larger than an oil tank of the same energy content. Methanol is toxic, flammable and can explode. Therefore, care must be taken in storage and handling. Methanol is regarded as a low flash point fuel because of its flash point of around 11 °C. Additionally, methanol burns with an invisible blue flame. Vessels using methanol as fuel must therefore be specially designed to protect the crew and ensure operational safety. Due to the relatively small number of vessels fuelled by methanol, there is little practical experience. As with all new systems, engine failures and downtime will occur as the new technology goes to sleep and the crew adapts to new procedures and develops appropriate problem-solving expertise related to methanol as a fuel.
Environmental & Safety Considerations:
Methanol is not a greenhouse gas and poses no environmental hazards. Being biodegradable, it mixes well with water and quickly becomes harmless. However, due to the toxicity of the vapours released during refuelling, gas danger zones must be identified on board. This is a point that should be observed on passenger ships. Since methanol vapour is heavier than air, it sinks in low-lying areas. About 5% MGO should be added as a pilot fuel for methanol combustion. Certain engine types can inject water into the combustion chamber to reduce NOx emissions. When retrofitting a methanol fuel system, existing fuel or ballast water tanks can be used after the application of specific internal coatings for methanol, provided the required access is available. The technology of methanol engines is proven and not particularly complicated. Methanol-compatible engines and conversion kits will be made available soon, according to major engine makers.
Characteristics of Methanol-Fuelled Vessels:
A methanol ship can run over 60,000 hours on methanol alone. It’s an evolving technology. Technological advances in piping systems and injection valves contribute to increasingly efficient solutions. This enables compliance with IMO 2020 regulations. Developed by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) to reduce the sulphur content of marine fuels by 0.50%. Methanol ship systems enable IMO 2020 Level III compliance without the need for after-treatment off-gas applications.
Versatile Engine: Current solutions include two-stroke engines that run on both methanol and conventional marine fuels.
Growing Order Book of Newbuilds: With the first deliveries anticipated in 2024, the order book for methanol-fueled ships continues to expand, including orders for container ships, bulk carriers, tankers, and even cruise and passenger ships. Owners want to be prepared for this fuel because there is such a strong demand. The number of orders for converting current engines is also increasing. Smaller cargo and offshore vessels with little interior room stand to profit, especially given how straightforward methanol technology is.
Supply: Renewable methanol will finally meet demand.
Proof of Concept: demonstration that the new engines can switch to pilot fuel as necessary and operate well and dependably on methanol; a demonstration of how fast and efficiently methanol infrastructure can be provided to ports.
There are currently 120 ports worldwide with methanol storage facilities, and several ports, such as Gothenburg, are either regulating methanol or preparing for bunkering. Bunker ships can be a long-term solution due to their simplicity and flexibility.
Future Engine Technology:
All current methanol engines are modified dual-fuel engines for HFO, diesel and gas. A limited number of engines are suitable for retrofitting. The rebuilt engine works well but is not optimized for its purpose. Switching to methanol fuel allows you to build a more efficient and smaller engine. Several universities are developing new engine concepts for the combustion of methanol as well as other alcohols in diesel processes. The cost of producing methanol depends on the raw material and the manufacturing process. The process of using syngas to produce methanol can be operated using many fossil and renewable raw materials. For renewable raw materials, there is a difference in production costs from the upstream chain, i.e. raw material procurement. Methanol is an attractive alternative in terms of fuel storage costs and bunker infrastructure. Additionally, methanol is modular, allowing shipping lines to start with relatively modest investments and build up gradually as more ships switch to the fuel. Methanol as a fuel has been cheap for most of the last five years but is now at a disadvantage compared to low-sulphur marine diesel.
Methanol bunkering is still in its infancy, and there aren’t many industry laws in place anywhere in the world. Methanol usage as a maritime fuel has a few specific areas of activity, in addition to the general expansion potential made possible by legislative reforms. Depending on the port and the quantity of fuel required, several bunkering options for methanol will be available. New fuels will probably be transported from ship to ship or from truck to ship initially. However, it is simple to adapt existing facilities to supply methanol. Ports have a lot of expertise in handling methanol safely, even though certain of its characteristics—such as its flammability, toxicity, and corrosivity—present hazards for the bunkering of fuel.
Methanol compared to alternative fuels like ammonia or hydrogen, has a larger volumetric energy content, making it a superior option for various vessel designs and longer trips because it requires less regular bunkering. Additionally, it is accessible worldwide at more than 120 ports, including all of the main centres for bunkering, and may be supplied using already-existing or easily adaptable landside storage or supply infrastructure. The main advantages of methanol are that it is reasonably safe to bunker, has an appealing price, and has a density that doesn’t impair the load capacity of ships. According to estimates, methanol may cut carbon emissions by 25%, nitrogen oxides by 80%, and sulphur oxides by 99% when compared to traditional gasoline. Compliance with regulations will be the being more costly than conventional marine fuels is one of the main factors encouraging shipowners to switch to greener fuels. It is fair to assume that to encourage greater adoption, rules or customer demand will be necessary.
To comply with international and local emission regulations, there will likely be significant changes in the mix of bunker fuels given the environmental issues the shipping sector has in reducing exhaust emissions, particularly those of sulphur. A variety of choices are being used by several shipowners.
Methanol is simple to handle and ignite thanks to its properties. E-methanol can reduce emissions of greenhouse gases and air pollutants. Due in part to its improved economics with higher-priced marine fuels, methanol has the potential to become a far more common fuel. Shipping firms are becoming considerably more resolute in their commitment to methanol.
– Vibha Bhat