Methanol Marine Fuel

The trend toward sustainable shipping and the new international maritime regulations aimed at reducing environmental impact and addressing the climate crisis could significantly shape the fuel market by opening more opportunities for low-carbon fuels, such as methanol. 

Methanol represents a technologically, economically and environmentally efficient and industrially developed alternative to traditional types of marine fuel. The transparent liquid substance, also known as methyl alcohol, is a technologically, economically and environmentally efficient alternative to traditional types of marine fuel. 

Methanol is soluble in water and easily biodegradable. Industrially, it is predominantly produced from natural gas by combining it with the water vapor and distilling the resulting mixture of synthesized gas. Methanol production capacities are usually located in the vicinity of natural gas fields, with their related infrastructure and, in particular, close to LNG terminals. 

Apart from the traditional industries of chemical derivatives, Methanol is an attractive alternative for vehicles and ships, as it could be both directly used as a fuel and mixed with gasoline or biodiesel. At the same time, methanol production requires special technical and regulatory frameworks to ensure safety, especially at the stage of transportation and when refuelling. At the moment, methanol fuel is officially certified only in China and California, while in the European Union, Australia and India, methanol can be used in fuel mixtures. 

The production of methanol and its derivatives is one of the fastest growing industries: 

  • Over the past 10 years, the growth of the methyl alcohol market has exceeded the growth of world GDP (more than 6.5% annually). 
  • The energy sector is the fastest growing methanol market. The main growth directions: production of formaldehydes (25% in 2017, 21% in 2025), olefins (MTO / MTP - 14% in 2017, 24% in 2025), and fuel (17% in 2017, 18% in 2025). 
  • By 2025 the demand for methanol will increase by more than 1.5 times, up to 122 million tons per year. 
  • The largest consumers of methanol are Northeast Asian states, especially China (more than 50% of global demand), the USA (10%) and Western Europe (8%).[137]

The global trend toward sustainable development and the new environmental standards of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) require vessels to reduce their environmental footprint and emissions of sulphur and nitrogen oxides. Being an environmentally friendly marine fuel, methanol can help moves towards a greener and more sustainable shipping industry. It is an optimal alternative due to its clean burning characteristics and economic efficiency. 

Methanol is among the top 5 chemical products shipped worldwide, and unlike some alternative fuels, it is easily accessible through the existing global port infrastructure. Some shipowners have already begun to refit vessels to use methanol. In 2014, Stena Germanica was the first large ferry to be fully converted to methanol fuel. Waterfront Shipping (owned by the largest methanol producer Methanex) already owns about 10 ships with a dual fuel system (e.g. gasoil / methanol). These company tankers with a lifting capacity of 50,000 tons operate on two-stroke dual-fuel engines capable of running on methanol, fuel oil, marine diesel or gas oil all over the globe.[138]

The challenges related to the use of methanol include lack of regulation and supply chain infrastructure, and limited economic feasibility.[139] Currently, methanol is more expensive than distillate marine fuels.[140] Moreover, spills of alternative fuels such as methanol present a problem for the Arctic. When methanol comes into contact with water, it rapidly mixes, but when it spills onto ice or snow, alcohol-water blends occur. They freeze, and the result can be transported over long distances in the Arctic ice and water stream, harming living organisms and animals, especially when it makes contact with skin or eyes.