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Methanol fuel: 3,000 hours and counting

VANCOUVER-based Waterfront Shipping is celebrating the first year of operating seven new tankers that are fuelled by methanol with two of its vessels racking up over 3,000 hours using the fuel.

The Canadian ship operator is a fully owned subsidiary of Toronto-listed Methanex, one of the world’s largest producers of methanol. Its  seven 50,000 dwt vessels are owned by Sweden’s Marinvest, Mitsui OSK Lines in Japan and Westfal-Larsen in Norway. The vessels were built in Korea and Japan and delivered last year, with each vessel is powered by a two-stroke engine from Man Diesel. While these engines are commonly called dual fuel engines, in reality they should be called multi-fuelled.  As well as running off Methanol they can be run with fuel oil, marine diesel oil or gas oil.

While the MAN engines can also be adapted to run off liquid natural gas this will be unlikely to happen on the WSF vessels, firstly as methanol can be stored at atmospheric pressure, it can be handled in a similar way to other marine fuels, unlike LNG which needs specialist pressurised storage tanks, but also as Methanex has control of its own supply chain it made more sense to use a fuel the company trades in.

Similar to LNG, methanol fuel users point to the fuels very low sulphur content making it a feasible choice in emission control areas as well as elsewhere after the global cap drops in 2020 to 0.5%. The question whether Waterfront, or any future owners, will use methanol will obviously depend on global availability and the important question of how its price compares to marine gas oil or ultra-low sulphur fuels.

The company says that two of the vessels (owned by Marinvest) have been running for a combined 3,000 hours (that’s the equivalent of a total of about two months per ship) on methanol, boasting that this has resulted in the prevention of 80,000 kg of sulphur oxide emissions.

The company is also looking at blending water into the methanol as a way of reducing NOx emissions to the international tier III levels which are in force in parts of the world.

The Waterfront Shipping septuplet are not the only vessels to be fuelled by methanol though. Swedish ferry operator Stena Lines has the Stena Germanica running on methanol as part of a European fund experiment. The company has made no secret of its preference for methanol rather than LNG as a fuel in the future.

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