Handshake brings a new generation of methanol-fuelled ships into service

Paul Gunton
ShipInsight

20 August 2019


“That was an expensive handshake” remarked Patrik Mossberg, CEO and chairman of Swedish shipowner Marinvest to ShipInsight immediately after signing for delivery of the 49,000dwt methanol-fuelled products/chemical carrier Mari Couva at Hyundai Mipo Dockyard on 16 August. That handshake – with H D Shin, CEO and president of South Korea’s Hyundai Mipo Dockyard – came just 22 months after the two companies had signed a contract for the vessel on 24 October 2017.

It and its sister ship Mari Kokako had been formally named in a ceremony two hours earlier and “she is in business as of now,” Mr Mossberg said. Mari Kokako is due for delivery on 9 September.

Handshake
H D Shin, left, CEO and president of South Korea’s Hyundai Mipo Dockyard, and Patrik Mossberg, CEO and chairman of Marinvest, completed handover formalities for Mari Couva on 16 August (image: ShipInsight)

Both ships are chartered to Waterfront Shipping, the shipping subsidiary of Canada-headquartered global methanol supplier Methanex, and Waterfront’s operations director, Fabian Tai, was confident that a cargo would be fixed for the ship within days. It seemed likely to be a cargo of diesel or another light product to New Zealand, where Methanex has a production plant where it will load its first methanol cargo. It was delivered with enough methanol fuel in its slop tanks and service tank to complete that voyage.

The two ships will bring to nine the number of methanol-fuelled ships in Waterfront’s fleet, which will then total 30 ships. A further two similar ships are also on order at the yard for operation by Waterfront with deliveries scheduled in October and December. The first of those will be owned by NYK and the other jointly by IINO Kaiun Kaisha and Mitsui.

Marinvest describes its ships as second-generation methanol dual-fuelled ships, in part because of changes in the engine design that have benefited from the experience of about 57,000 hours of methanol-fuelled running in the first seven ships, delivered in 2016. A separate ShipInsight article will describe those changes to the Hyundai-built MAN B&W 6G50ME-C9.5-LGIM engine, which is rated at 7,180kW at its MCR.

Mari couva
Methanol-fuelled Mari Couva on sea trials (image: Marinvest)

A further change from those earlier deliveries will add water to the fuel using a centrifugal pump. Water and methanol mix easily and a ratio of up to 40% water by volume, depending on engine load, has been found to make it possible for the engine to meet IMO Tier III NOx emissions without the need for SCR or an EGR. However, this innovation has been developed since the ships were ordered so this was not included in the shipbuilding contract and the ships are each fitted with an SCR system.

The water injection system will be fitted in the near future – a definite installation date had not been set when the Mari Couva was delivered – so it was not tested during the ship’s sea trials. However, shop trials with the engine show the system is effective, Marinvest’s director for ship management Fredrik Stubner told ShipInsight. He would have preferred to have been able to test the system during trials, he said, but introducing and testing the upgrade in service is “a controlled risk … that we can monitor”, he said.

The additional water acts by reducing the combustion temperature and thus reduces its NOx emissions, but the energy needed to evaporate the water imposes a fuel consumption penalty. However, Kjeld Aabo, director of new technologies for two-stroke marine engines at MAN Energy Solutions, pointed out that this should be set against the cost of the urea needed when an SCR was in operation. This could be “up to 24g/kWh” he said, which Mr Stubner said cost around US$15/litre.

In the future, Marinvest might retrofit this technology to the existing seven methanol-fuelled ships in its fleet but there are no plans to modify its other ships to use methanol, Waterfront’s president Paul Hexter told ShipInsight. But he pointed out that, with a fleet of around 30 ships, “we are in a constant fleet renewal programme” so any newbuildings contracted as part of that process will be specified to use methanol.

Waterfront will also have to expand its fleet in response to a decision announced by Methanex on 19 July to invest in additional methanol production facilities in Louisiana. This reflects growing demand for methanol that Methanex director of business development Stuart McCall told ShipInsight is running at about 4-5% a year, based on estimates by the Methanol Institute, of which it is a member. “We want to keep up as market leader so we’re going to have to up our logistics solutions,” he explained.

This extra production will add 1.8M tonne/year to Methanex’s production from the second half of 2022 so Waterfront will have to be ready to provide additional capacity to coincide with that timetable. ShipInsight anticipates that this will require newbuilding orders to be placed in about a year’s time.

Asked whether methanol might be adopted as a regular fuel in other ship types, Mr McCall drew a parallel with LNG’s growing acceptance as a fuel. It was widely used in LNG ships for many years before its more recent growth in popularity, he said. “It’s the same for methanol. It’s a few years behind LNG [but] from a technical point of view, there are no issues” with its use.

Principal particulars, Mari Couva and Mari Kokako

Length, oa
183.07m

Length, bp
175.15m

Beam
32.20m

Draught, design
11.00m

Draught, max
13.30m

Deadweight
49,000 tonnes

Gross tonnage
29,700

Main engine
MAN B&W 6G50ME-C9.5-LGIM

Output, MCR
7,180kW

Speed
14.5kts

Class
DNV GL

Flag
Norway