Ship engine maker Wärtsilä and ferry operator Stena Line share insights about Methanol engine conversions.
The ferry operator Stena Line was one of the first shipping companies to use methanol as a fuel. In 2015, Stena Line collaborated with ship engine maker Wärtsilä to convert its Stena Germanica, a passenger ferry operating between Kiel, Germany, and Gothenburg, Sweden, to a dual-fuel engine capable of using methanol. In a recent webinar, representatives from both companies shared some insights.
Today, green methanol made with electricity or from alternative sources like biomass is widely considered a potential climate-friendly shipping fuel. But that was not the case in 2015. “10 years ago, when we started with the Stena Germanica, people were laughing at us”, Toni Stojcevski from Wärtsilä reflects on the experience.
According to Ron Gerlach from Stena Line, back then, the primary motivation was to reduce sulfur and particulate matter emissions. Reducing carbon dioxide emissions was a secondary concern.
Today, over a hundred ships have engines capable of running on methanol. However, given that they are usually dual-fuel engines, that does not necessarily mean they run on methanol, let alone green methanol.
Green methanol availability is a concern
The availability of green methanol is a major concern, and it was up to the audience of Wärtsilä’s webinar to raise that issue. In a poll, more than half of the participants identified this as the most important concern.
While plenty of green methanol projects have been announced lately, actual production is still quite limited. For the time being, most ships running on methanol will likely still use fossil fuels, as the common way of producing methanol today is based on natural gas.
According to Ron Gerlach from Stena Line, using fossil-based methanol still reduces ships’ emissions by around 10 to 15 percent. For its methanol sourcing, Stena Line collaborates with Proman, a chemical company specializing in products made from natural gas.
Once ships use actual green methanol or other fuels sourced from renewable energy, it is expected that fuel prices will increase significantly. However, regulation like the EU Emission Trading System and ship efficiency standards will likely force ship owners to use these fuels.
According to Toni Stojcevski, future fuels may cost four to five times more. That means that engine performance and efficiency improvements will play a much larger role in the future. Even minor improvements in engine efficiency would have a substantial cost-saving effect.
Only minor technical challenges
For Stena Line, it appears their experience with the methanol conversion has been positive.
“We didn’t face any significant technical challenges here,” Ron Gerlach said. “Of course, there are always initial hiccups that we have to deal with.”
Problems that Stena Line had to solve were issues with double-wall piping and finding leaks, and issues with injectors on the engine. “But these were initial challenges we had to face, and now the ship is running perfectly fine,” said Gerlach.
The two companies have just announced plans to continue this path. Stena Line has commissioned Wärtsilä with two further conversions of ropax vessels to methanol-capable engines.