LNG bunker industry body Sea-LNG has warned of 'colour blindness' emerging over methanol bunkers as this alternative fuel gains traction in the shipping industry.
Methanol is already a widely-traded commodity worldwide and available at many ports. But the majority of this product is currently produced from natural gas or coal, and this 'grey methanol' delivers higher GHG emissions than conventional bunkers.
Green methanol production is starting to be ramped up, but not yet at the same pace as the growing number of orders of ships capable of running on methanol. This risks a degree of 'colour blindness' over methanol's environmental credentials emerging in the shipping industry, Peter Keller, chairman of Sea-LNG, wrote in an opinion article for news provider TradeWinds on Thursday.
"The methanol-ready dual-fuel vessels that are being ordered and delivered are just that, dual fuelled VLSFO-fuelled vessels with an option to use grey methanol, or green methanol when and if available," Keller said.
"Given the lack of green methanol availability on a global basis, they are for the significant future likely to run on VLSFO or grey methanol produced from fossil fuels.
"This will not reduce carbon emissions; it may even increase them.
"The highly publicised C2X venture is suggesting they will produce 3 million tons of green methanol by 2030.
"This is a positive and important undertaking.
"But let's remember that this will supply perhaps 30 vessels – assuming the product can be delivered worldwide.
"What about the other 170 or so methanol-ready vessels on the current order book? And what happens between now and 2030?
"The green methanol that a significant shipping company recently bunkered is made from biomethane – not renewable hydrogen – using a valuable green fuel as a feedstock.
"The green methanol production process is wasteful, consuming a scarce green resource to make a more expensive marine fuel.
This makes little sense for business and less sense for the planet."
Methanol as a bunker fuel has generated considerable momentum in the past two years, with orders of ships capable of running on methanol now regularly coming in across multiple shipping segments. At the same time, the spike in global gas prices prompted by the Ukraine war has seen orders of LNG-fuelled ships slow.
Further disputes between proponents of these alternative fuels can be expected over the next few years as each side seeks to gain momentum. Whichever side secures more ship orders will prompt increased supply capacity being built, which will in turn increase that fuel's momentum towards becoming the dominant fuel.
Ammonia will also join this fight in the coming years, once further research and development work is completed into how it can be safely handled as a bunker fuel.