What's the common thread between Egyptian Mummies, newly formed stars, and alternative marine fuels?
The answer is Methanol.
Ancient Egyptians used Methanol as an embalming chemical used in the process of mummification. Methanol has been found in interstellar space where new stars are formed, and Methanol is one of the fuels that hold promise as an alternative marine fuel.
In this post, we will talk about Methanol as an alternative marine fuel.
Methanol (CH3OH) is a water-soluble and readily biodegradable compound comprising four parts hydrogen, one part oxygen, and one part carbon. It is the simplest member of a group of organic chemicals called alcohols. Methanol is a clean-burning, biodegradable fuel. Increasingly, Methanol's environmental and economic advantages make it an attractive alternative fuel for powering vehicles and ships, cooking food, and heating homes.
Methanol can be produced by:
- Using Natural gas: Most predominant method, natural gas is reformed with steam and converted to pure Methanol. The energy efficiency of the process is about 70% (energy stored in Methanol vs. energy stored in natural gas)
- Renewable sources like agricultural waste, biomass, and black liquor (a by-product of paper forming process)
- Using gasification of coal: Simple process due to the abundance of coal but the drawback is twice high GHG emissions.
- Using CO2 and H2: Green H2 can be procured via electrolysis from renewable sources and CO2 can be obtained from biomass resulting in carbon-neutral methanol.
Important note: Due to its energy density, methanol fuel tanks are approximately 2.5 larger than oil tanks for the same energy content. Resulting in a larger volume required for transport.
Based on the production methods, methanol can be classified as:
- Green Methanol: Made from completely renewable resources. Examples: Biomass and Electrolysis via renewable electricity.
- Blue Methanol: Produced using blue hydrogen with carbon capture technology. This method is not completely carbon neutral.
- Grey Methanol: Produced from Natural gas, results in significant CO2 emissions.
- Brown Methanol: Produced from coal, resulting in the highest CO2 emissions
Now let us consider the environmental impact of using Methanol as a marine fuel:
- CO2 Emissions: An overall reduction of 10% when compared to oil [TTP: Tank to Propellor]. When considering the complete lifecycle [WTT: Well to Tank], if the Methanol is created from natural gas, then CO2 emissions are equivalent to or slightly higher than the corresponding emissions of oil-based fuels.
- When used in internal combustion engines, Methanol almost eliminates the sulfur emissions and meets the sulfur emissions cap.
- Particulate emissions are also significantly lower.
- NOx emissions are lower; however, they are not low enough to satisfy the latest IMO Tier III standard NOx limits. EGR (exhaust gas recirculation) or SCR (selective catalytic reduction systems) are necessary to meet the cap.
When considering the price:
- Between 2010 and 2013, the methanol prices were between European HFO and MGO prices. But since then, the methanol prices have increased and are still higher compared with distillate marine fuels.
- Since Methanol is primarily produced using natural gas, its price per mass unit is tied to the natural gas prices and is generally higher when considering energy content within natural gas.
In terms of Capital Investment:
Installing a methanol system (IC Engine, fuel tanks, and piping) is roughly 1/3 of the cost associated with LNG. Price reduction is due to the non-requirement of cryogenic chambers and pressurized fuel tanks.
What makes Methanol so attractive as an alternative marine fuel is that it can be readily produced from renewable energy using hydrogen and CO2. Using electrolysis from renewable energy Hydrogen to create Methanol makes it a green fuel. According to IRENA, by 2050 there is a 5-fold demand increase. But the good news is that:
- The existing infrastructure can be repurposed to adopt for methanol supply chain
- Waste feed and CO2 systems are already available
- Methanol is cost-effective when compared with other low-carbon alternatives.