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Methanol as an alternative fuel in shipping industry

The shipping industry is essential for the transport of goods and commodities as large quantities are transported by sea. The shipping industry has been using fossil fuels for several years, resulting in the pollution of the environment.

This negative outcome pushed the shipping industry into switching triggered to alternative fuels, such as renewable fuels, in order to tackle to problem with the environment pollution and reduce the greenhouse gas emissions. The switch from one fuel to another must take place gradually, modifying of all the components of the ship and especially the engines of the ships so that they are used properly.

That study aims to review and analyze the potential and challenges of methanol as a marine fuel. Methanol as an alternative fuel proves to be a viable solution for emission reduction in the shipping industry and that it is environmentally friendly. There are some financial obstacles to methanol implementation which can be overcome in order to meet the environmental targets imposed in the shipping industry.

Shipping and Environmental Impact

It is a fact that the environment is trying to survive from human activities which have an impact on the greenhouse effect and climate change. One of these activities is the global shipping sector. The world shipping sector is considered the most important weapon for world trade because 70% of the Earth is water and the rest is land and that is why maritime trade is used and needed. The cost of transporting goods by sea, due to the large quantities, is less than any another means of transportation. However, ships are used for large quantities even though they take more time to reach a destination.

The worldwide shipping fleet absorbed the major amount of 298 million tonnes of fuel throughout the year of 2015 (Olmer, 2017). This consumption generated emissions of CO2, Nitrous Oxides (NOx), particulates, Sulphur Oxides (SOx) and Greenhouse Gases (GHGs). International Maritime Organization (IMO) regulations limited SOx and NOx emissions. Moreover, IMO regulations defined some percentages of fuel sulphur on a global basis. Also, IMO regulations determined certain areas (SECAs) to avoid the large amounts of sulphur. This has caused some shipowners to turn to alternative fuels like methanol and other biofuels because the IMO forced owners to keep the sulphur fuel oils percentage low. The implementation of categories by the IMO will play a major role to the change of fuel types in more ships (Svanberg, 2018).

In this case there is great unreliability as to which are the long-term but also the best options for different ship segments like short sea or intercontinental freight transport, naval vessels, and passenger ships. However, the most important factor for implementing the regulations is to reduce CO2 emissions, but also comply with the 2020 Global Sulphur Cap and NOx Emission Control Areas (NECA) regulations through equipment and systems that can be introduced with minimal interruption to the existing ship layout (Harmsen, 2020).

Shipping Shifts from Conventional Fuels to Alternative Fuels

This project studies the various biofuels that can be included in the global maritime sector, which will be able to comply mainly with the regulations of the IMO and if they meet the environmental criteria.

The shipping industry is currently volatile as the shipping industry has shifted its focus to non-petroleum, renewable and non-polluting fuels. The world reserves of primary energy and raw materials are obviously, limited. So, there will be a recovery with the various biofuels being researched in the shipping industry (Agarwal, 2007).

The biofuels mentioned in the following project are attractive alternative fuels, because they can be mixed in any proportion of fossil fuel, so that an engine runs on two fuels and is called a dual engine. For example, the engine is working with diesel and some biofuel together. Also, with these biofuels there is a possibility of minor or no engine modifications due to the fact that the engine running on biofuel has similar properties to diesel. In addition, biofuels such as diesel, run on a compression-ignition engine, so it does not require a new installation (Agarwal, 2007).

According to the regulations of the IMO, it will be determined which biofuels can be included in the shipping area and which biofuels will meet the IMO specifications. Moreover, the biofuels mentioned separately will ascertain if biofuels satisfy the environmental criteria and can achieve the specific goals. Then, the cost of biofuels will be analyzed and discover if it is possible to buy them. The most important part of the research will be to reach to the conclusion if biofuels perform successfully in the engines.

Transition to Methanol Fuel

There are many expectations for the choice of fuel to be able to join and meet the regulations of the IMO. The alternative fuels that can meet the regulations will be referred to in this thesis. One of these alternative fuels is methanol. In accordance with the required IMO 2020 regulations, methanol can be used to reduce emissions of diesel engines. Furthermore, methanol can be easily incorporated into today engines that run such as two-stroke and four-stroke marine diesel engines according to MAN engines (MAN 2014). Then, methanol will be compared with a conventional engine such as a diesel engine to see the advantages, disadvantages, and similarities of both fuels.

That study presented a theoretical background for the use of methanol as an alternative marine fuel. Subsequently, a comparison between three case studies was presented providing valuable results as to the advantages and disadvantages by the use of methanol as an alternative marine fuel.

According to the above, it is extracted that the theoretical background of methanol is in alignment with the applications indicated in the case studies, thus confirming that methanol can be used in the shipping industry not just as an alternative fuel but as the main fuel in as well. Based on the theoretical background, the advantage that methanol ultimately offers is the reduction of GHG emissions during the combustion of methanol, resulting in it being environmentally friendly. This theory is confirmed from the results of the comparison between the three case studies.

Taking into consideration the MARPOL ANNEX VI, methanol complies with the regulations imposed by the specific ANNEX in terms of NOx, SOx, and CO2 emission reduction. In addition to this, the cost of producing methanol is low, thus, making it attractive to shipowners.

Based on the research and results presented in this project, methanol can replace over time the conventional marine fuels that are used to date and become the new main marine fuel always in alignment with the IMO imposed environmental regulations.

Author: Christos Nikolaou, Merchant Marine Officer – 3rd Engineer

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