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Live from SMM Hamburg

Methanol is promising alternative to bunker fuel: Stena

Methanol is promising alternative to bunker fuel: Stena
The use of methanol to propel ships is a serious alternative to the present industry norm of burning high-sulphur bunker fuel, according to Erik Lewenhaupt, head of sustainability at Stena Line Group.

“The shipping industry continuously and urgently needs to explore new ways to increase energy efficient and lower emissions if we are to stay ahead of competition,” Lewenhaupt told Seatrade Maritime News.

Lewenhaupt pointed out that the major advantage is that methanol is a substantially cleaner fuel compared to the regular bunker fuel such as the commonly used 380 cst bunker grade.

“Running on methanol can remove more than 90% of sulphur oxide (SOx) and particulate matter (PM), and emit 60% less nitrogen oxide (NOx), compared to regular bunker fuel,” he said.

He added that methanol can also be produced by biomass and when such production reaches larger volumes it can be an alternative way to remove carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. “Until then it is together with LNG a possible ‘bridge fuel’ with a much reduced environmental footprint,” Lewenhaupt noted.

Another advantage of burning methanol is that it is easier to handle than LNG as methanol is a liquid and does not require to be held frozen nor be under a specific set of pressures.

In terms of logistics, transportation and bunkering facilities are simpler and a conversion of existing tonnage is therefore lower in cost than LNG. “It is however still a major effort to convert a vessel and not all vessels would be suitable, our project has thankfully received EU support,” Lewenhaupt said.

Since 2013, Stena has embarked on a large scale project to convert four main engines on a cruise ferry to methanol-diesel operation. The selected vessel, the 51,837-gt Stena Germanica, already has one engine operating on methanol-diesel.

The use of diesel together with methanol points to the need for a combination of different alternatives as there is no one fuel fits all model, Lewenhaupt pointed out, highlighting that the shipping industry comprises of 70,000 very different merchant vessels with various age profile and trading patterns.

“A combination of different alternatives is necessary and we believe that bunker fuels will be the predominant fuel for many years to come. However LNG and methanol can take a substantial market share in the coming 10 years,” he said.

“We also believe biofuels such as biodiesel will grow but the ‘alternative land use’ factor for much of the feedstock used has up until now made many alternatives unsustainable.”

Lewenhaupt also observed that the use of electricity is an “interesting option” as well, attested by some ports installing shoreside power facilities, or cold-ironing for ships at berthed.

“Battery and hybrid propulsion is something we are keeping a close look at. We believe one realistic way of reducing emissions in the future, before that perfect fossil free fuel comes along, can be to combine battery propulsion in/out of port and archipelago – with a low sulphur/nitrogen oxide fuel like methanol or LNG,” he said.

Lewenhaupt will be speaking at gmec (global maritime environmental congress) on 6 September as part of the SMM 2016 show to be held in Hamburg, Germany.