VPS Journey with Methanol: A Low-Carbon Marine Fuel

by Admin
VPS on methanol as marine fuel article

In the ever-evolving quest for sustainable maritime solutions, the adoption of methanol as a marine fuel has emerged as a significant step towards reducing carbon emissions. In this insightful article, Steve Bee, VPS Group Commercial Director, shares the invaluable experience gained by VPS in the realm of methanol as a marine fuel, shedding light on its potential as a low-carbon alternative for the shipping industry.

Steve Bee, Group Commercial Director, VPS

With the shipping industry’s ambitious goal of achieving decarbonization and becoming net zero by 2050, ship owners and operators are actively exploring alternative fuels that offer a lower carbon footprint to mitigate overall emissions from their fleets. In Europe, this commitment is closely tied to the impending introduction of the EU Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) in 2024 and the FuelEU Maritime legislation set to take effect in 2025. Amid this evolving landscape of marine fuels, methanol has emerged as a serious contender to assist the shipping sector in meeting its decarbonization targets.

Methanol (CH3OH) is a versatile liquid chemical used in a multitude of everyday products, including plastics, paints, cosmetics, and fuels. Liquid methanol is derived from synthesis gas, a blend of hydrogen, carbon dioxide, and carbon monoxide, which can be sourced from a diverse range of feedstocks using various technologies.

Renewable methanol represents an ultra-low carbon alternative, produced from sustainable biomass, often referred to as bio-methanol, or synthesized from carbon dioxide and hydrogen generated through renewable electricity.

Renewable methanol can be harnessed from a plethora of globally available sources. The necessary carbon molecules for synthesizing gas used in methanol production can be harvested from sources like industrial exhaust streams or captured directly from the atmosphere. Synthesis gas can also be generated through the gasification of various carbon sources, including municipal solid waste and forestry residues. Moreover, biogas, obtained through fermentation from landfills, wastewater treatment plants, or animal waste, can serve as a feedstock for methanol production. Furthermore, renewable energy can power the electrolysis process required to produce clean hydrogen for renewable methanol production.

One compelling aspect of methanol is its status as the world’s most commonly transported chemical commodity, with more than 95 billion liters produced annually. It has a proven track record of safe storage, transportation, and handling spanning over a century. The existing infrastructure for its utilization as a fuel is well-established since methanol remains in liquid form at standard ambient temperature and pressure. This characteristic allows for seamless adaptation of combustion engines, fuel cells, and power units to utilize methanol.

Methanol as a Marine Fuel

The attraction of methanol for the maritime industry lies in its capacity to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions released into the atmosphere. Renewable methanol offers the potential to reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by up to 95%, nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions by up to 80%, and completely eliminate emissions of sulfur oxide (SOx) and particulate matter (PM).

However, the use of methanol as a marine fuel comes with various considerations. While methanol possesses favorable combustion characteristics, it necessitates a pilot fuel, such as gas oil or a biofuel, for ignition. On a positive note, methanol remains in liquid form at atmospheric pressure, is biodegradable, and can operate efficiently with existing engine technologies.

Nevertheless, methanol’s Flash Point, which is only 12ºC, raises immediate concerns related to the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) requirements. SOLAS dictates that no marine fuel with a flash point below 60ºC should be allowed onboard a vessel. Additionally, methanol has a lower energy content, approximately 40%-50% of more traditional fossil fuels commonly used in the maritime sector. Given methanol’s high reactivity, materials that may come into contact with it must be inert, such as stainless steel.

To meet the Tier III NOx requirements, pure water must be added to methanol before burning, allowing for a reduction of approximately 30% in NOx emissions compared to fossil fuels.

VPS Completes the First Methanol Bunker Quantity Survey, Sampling, and Testing

In July 2023, VPS was commissioned by Maersk to conduct the inaugural methanol bunker quantity survey (BQS). This historic operation took place in Singapore for Maersk’s first methanol-powered container ship, the Laura Maersk.

Before the initial methanol delivery, several preparatory measures were undertaken, including cleaning the delivery barge tanks and partially loading methanol onto the barge to prevent any risk of cross-contamination during the actual delivery. As part of the BQS procedure, VPS also performed the necessary closed-sampling process to collect representative samples of the methanol delivered to the vessel, which were then transported to a VPS Laboratory for quality testing.

In the year leading up to this BQS operation, VPS made substantial investments in new laboratory equipment and conducted extensive research and development to offer a comprehensive testing and advisory service regarding methanol as a marine fuel.

For the safe transportation of methanol samples to the VPS laboratory, the transfer by airplane had to comply with the International Air Transport Association (IATA) rules for the transportation of dangerous goods. Notably, when considering the use of methanol as a marine fuel, it is the responsibility of the entity sending methanol samples for testing to ensure that they are trained and accredited to meet IATA standards, such as the vessel crew or vessel agent.

The testing of samples from the Laura Maersk bunkering was conducted according to the International Methanol Producers and Consumers Association (IMPCA) test slate. Key test considerations included the purity of the methanol, the presence of ethanol, water content, the presence of acetone, chlorides, fuel acidity, sulfur content, and the detection of numerous other impurities.

Following the bunkering operation in Singapore, the Laura Maersk continued its journey, reaching Port Said, Egypt, where VPS conducted another round of Bunker Quantity Surveying (BQS), Sampling, and Testing for the methanol supplied to the vessel. The vessel’s final bunkering stop occurred in Rotterdam, where VPS once again successfully completed the BQS operation, including sampling and testing procedures.

The meticulous surveying and testing of methanol during these three bunkering stems demonstrated a consistent match between the delivered fuel, the Bunker Delivery Note (BDN), and the Certificate of Quality (CoQ).

VPS and Methanol Bunker Fuel

VPS has established a track record showcasing that safe, precise, and dependable quantity surveys and methanol sampling can be executed effectively. Furthermore, through substantial investments in cutting-edge laboratory equipment and rigorous training for analysts and advisors, VPS can offer accurate analytical testing of methanol samples to ascertain the fuel’s quality. This enables VPS to provide valuable marine engineering advice, supporting ship owners and operators when they opt for methanol as their preferred low-carbon marine fuel.

Currently, VPS collaborates with multiple shipping companies, suppliers, and engine manufacturers to conduct testing on their methanol samples. They share their expertise, experience, and innovative approach to provide a better understanding of this low-carbon fuel. With over 160 methanol-powered vessels currently on order, it is evident that methanol usage will witness a significant upsurge within the maritime sector. VPS has demonstrated a high level of performance, actively supporting the industry in its journey towards decarbonization.

For further information on how VPS can assist in addressing your decarbonization challenges, please contact us via our website.

Source VPS Veritas Petroleum Services