FASTWATER project aims to build on Methanol’s numerous references as a simple to adopt sustainable marine fuel, writes Sebastian Verhelst of Lund University and Ghent University
Industry announcement: Decarbonising the maritime supply chain poses a formidable challenge, stretching as it does from inland transport through ports and terminals to the ships that serve global trade. Multiple stakeholders must engage in the process and ports are among the most important as they include the widest range of maritime users.
Low carbon energy available to shoreside facilities using renewable electricity are hard to replicate onboard ship so for the myriad of small craft – tugs, enforcement vessels, dredgers and pilot boats – other sustainable solutions are needed.
One of the issues facing port communities is that the multi-fuel future is a phased process in terms of regulation, availability and suitability, with LNG and methanol the only practical short term choices.
Faced with the problem of needing to cut emissions quickly, port and harbour authorities are examining and investing in methanol as an option that can virtually eliminate air pollution and contribute towards lower carbon.
Liquid at ambient temperature and miscible in water, Methanol can be shipped, stored and handled using procedures similar to conventional fuels. Ships using Methanol as fuel will enjoy an immediate reduction in SOx, NOx, PM and carbon dioxide emissions which makes it an ideal fuel for operators who want to reduce their environmental impact immediately.
In operation, Methanol produces around 10% lower carbon emissions than fuel oil and as increasing volumes of renewable Methanol become available, operators can lower their net carbon emissions further and achieve compliance beyond 2030.
Methanol – a proven concept
Methanol single or dual fuel engines are very similar in design to conventional diesel engines with the Methanol fuel supply system designed to meet prevailing safety standards.
The decision to invest in new tonnage or conversions will vary on a case by case basis and factors including vessel size and age but where conversion can be undertaken, changes to the fuel supply nozzles and additional fuel supply/engine room piping is most of what is required. In general, modern, electronically controlled engines can be converted but local conditions could be decisive. If the boat is operating in an area that is subject to tight pollution controls there may be local or national incentives that could help drive the decision.
The Sustainable Marine Methanol project in Sweden concluded it was technically feasible and environmentally beneficial to convert a road ferry with an engine capacity of about 350 kW which makes short trips carrying people as well as cars to operate on Methanol in a single fuel engine. The research concluded that there are no obstacles to the efficient use of Methanol in a converted diesel engine and that smaller vessel conversion projects are feasible and cost-effective, with levels of safety that easily meet existing requirements.
The GreenPilot project run by SSPA has already demonstrated that it is feasible to convert a pilot boat to methanol operation using available technology. Spark ignited engines with port injected methanol were found to have engine efficiency similar to diesel engines. Emissions reductions were substantial compared to conventional fuel oil.
Researchers at Chalmers University of Technology looked at the total cost of ownership for larger ferries operating on biofuels, bio-electrofuels, and e-fuels, in terms of fuel production, fuel infrastructure, ship CAPEX, energy storage, and loss of cargo space. The study found that renewable methanol (bio-methanol and e-methanol) shows the lowest cost for each fuel category, beating biodiesel, bioDME, bioLNG, e-diesel, ammonia and hydrogen.
The most recent project aiming to lower pollution and carbon emissions sees a consortium of Europe’s maritime research and technology leaders taking part in the FASTWATER project which demonstrated the feasibility of converting existing harbour craft to Methanol fuel in December 2021.
Together with the Swedish Maritime Administration, the FASTWATER Consortium successfully demonstrated a pilot boat in Stockholm Harbour, following the successful bunkering of the vessel at the SMA pilot station in Oxelösund, Sweden, where the pilot boat is based.
With funding from the European Commission, FASTWATER focuses on high impact outcomes, designing retrofit solutions for existing ships and designs for newbuildings, employing Methanol as a future-proof alternative marine fuel to create a fast track to carbon neutral shipping.
The project aims to commercialize medium and high-speed Methanol-fuelled engines for shipping. Consortium members, including OEMs, shipyards, naval architects, ship owners/operators, port and maritime authorities, classification, fuel producers, and research institutes, will demonstrate feasibility on three vessels running on methanol fuel: a harbour tug, a pilot boat, and a coast guard vessel.
By offering a wide power range for four stroke engines, FASTWATER will target inland waterway and marine applications, including harbour tugs, river cruise ships, coast guard and pilot boats, with technologies offered as a retrofit kit and for newbuild vessels.
A conversion concept for a river cruise ship using Methanol-driven propulsion will also be developed and a universal, scalable retrofit kit for converting diesel fuelled ships to Methanol use for a wide power range (200 kW-4 MW) will be validated.
In addition, FASTWATER will provide training programs for vessel crew and portside staff, develop rules and regulations for Methanol marine fuel use, demonstrate the complete value chain for bunkering methanol – including net carbon neutral renewable Methanol – elaborate a business plan, and identify CO2 and conventional pollutant reductions.
The FASTWATER consortium already has a strong track record with Methanol projects and will address current bottlenecks that are hindering the use of methanol as a fuel for waterborne transport. The project will put more Methanol fuelled vessels on the water and showcase retrofit technologies that will serve as lighthouse projects supporting wider commercial introduction.