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LR's Douglas Raitt explains how our new Technical Reference will help shipowners, ports and bunker suppliers understand the processes and procedures required for the safe use of methanol as a marine fuel.
To meet the IMO’s 2050 ambitions on halving GHG emissions from 2008 levels, zero-carbon vessels need to enter the world fleet by 2030. Ship technology and operational efficiency will most likely run its course in terms of incremental benefits of reducing shipping’s carbon intensity by 2025. For shipping to continue to be able to transition further to achieve the IMO stated goals by 2050 inevitably lower carbon and zero carbon fuels must be adopted by the industry within the new few years.
There are a variety of candidate options: fuels derived from natural gas with carbon capture systems, bio-derived fuels and electro-fuels:
LNG, methanol, ammonia and hydrogen are all low-flashpoint fuels with LNG currently well established under the IMO’s IGF code (Code of Safety for Ship Using Gases or Other Low-flashpoint Fuels). Methanol, ammonia and hydrogen still have some way to go to be formally established within the IGF Code. Looking in particular at methanol, as a first step a Circular covering the Interim Guidelines on the use of such a fuel onboard ships is to be considered for approval by the IMO’s Maritime Safety Committee (MSC) at its 102nd session, which is re-scheduled to take place this week (4-11 November 2020).
Recently, LR and the Methanol Institute worked together to facilitate methanol as a candidate fuel for decarbonisation through the development and publication of a Methanol Bunkering Technical Reference. The prescriptive guide provides checklists for shipowners, suppliers and port authorities to become more familiar with methanol bunkering and help accelerate its use.
Methanol bunkering is not that dissimilar to marine gasoil bunkering, however there are some challenges with regards to the toxicity of methanol, and in firefighting, but these can be safely navigated. The LR developed Technical Reference provides operational safety management protocols which, when applied, would significantly reduce the low-flashpoint fuel concerns, and other challenges previously mentioned, with methanol bunkering. It is already in use on product tankers, ferries and harbour craft and the Technical Reference will allow other ship type sectors to consider methanol as a candidate fuel in the transition to full decarbonisation.
Methanol, as a single carbon molecule, is currently mainly produced from natural gas but could alternatively be produced renewably from green hydrogen combined with CO2, transitioning to, full net-zero carbon lifecycle emissions, or ‘electro-methanol’. If the industry starts to use methanol now with lower carbon emissions, it would then be able to transition over time to net-zero carbon emissions as we evolve from grey, to blue to green methanol in the next 10 to 20 years.