German partners plan methanol-fuelled MPP

Malcolm Latarche

Malcolm Latarche · 23 January 2020


Taking on the challenge of carbon-neutral transport, Hamburg-based design consultancy SDC Ship Design & Consult and Bremen-based ship operator Liberty Group have joined forces and are planning to build an innovative design both ready for traditional MGO and Methanol, meeting the future demand for an environmental-friendly logistic chain today.

In a statement the two companies explained the drivers for the project saying “Nowadays, shipowners are facing enormous uncertainties placing a newbuilding in the market. Financing difficulties are accompanied by the overwhelming question of a future-proof fuel. Ships being built today will have to contribute during their expected lifespan to the most demanding IMO GHG emission reduction targets set out in 2018.

“Today, there is only one thing everybody is completely sure about: There is no single fuel solution to accomplish this mission. The mixture of promises and technical challenges is illustrated with the example of hydrogen, which is promoted to be a carbon-neutral fuel in maritime traffic if produced from green energy. However, hydrogen has got decent disadvantages when it comes to risk assessment and onboard storage as it has to be stowed under high pressure or low temperature.

But there is process helping to overcome the disadvantages. Adding carbon to hydrogen, extracted from the ambient atmosphere, carbon hydride in the form of methane (commonly known as LNG) and methanol is produced, fuels much easier to bunker and to handle. In addition to the advantages with respect to storage, methanol burns cleanly, is a fluid and, should it be accidentally released to water, is biologically decomposed swiftly.

SDC Ship Design and Consult and Liberty Group now exploit these advantages, adopting methanol as a fuel for their new design in addition to traditional MDO.

The 5,300dwt vessel, 84.70m in length, is designed for a speed up to 12 knots. Hull optimisation performed by the Hamburg Ship Model Basin and the selection of a highly-efficient propulsion system leads to an incredibly low consumption of only 4.5 tonnes per day. Running purely on sulphur-cap-meeting MGO, total operational range is 5,000 nm. If using methanol, the range drops slightly to about 4,000nm due to lower energy density but still exceeds the volume efficiency of a comparable, LNG-driven design.

The ship is NAABSA-certified, shows outstanding manoeuvrability, and provides optimised view from the wheelhouse improving entering small harbours. Apart from a potential CO2-neutral propulsion system, the design incorporates further environmental-friendly technologies, improving the environmental footprint to meet the requirements of modern charterers.

Next to the environmental aspect, selection of methanol as a fuel by SDC and Liberty Group also has economic advantages, as the investment for any cryogenic technology required on a comparable LNG-fuelled design is not necessary. Costs for an LNG-fuelled ship would be around 30% higher making a vessel of this size propelled with a fuel not stored in simple tanks financially infeasible.

The partners also say that methanol is freely available and the IMO has formulated rules for methanol-fuelled vessels. Methanol is shipped globally in a volume of about 100 million tonnes per year to more than 120 ports, and the bunkering infrastructure is in place. Increasing trade volume is demonstrated by two newbuilding contracts for two 49,500 dwt tankers signed recently by the joint venture Proman Stena Bulk.

Methanol is produced today mainly from fossil energy sources. To contribute to IMO climate targets and to stop global warming, methanol will have to be produced by green energy such as wind and solar power. But even now, produced mainly from natural gasoline, methanol has still got advantages with respect to CO2 and sulphur emissions during vessels’ operation.

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