A wider view on alternative fuels

ClassNK is collaborating on innovation
ClassNK is collaborating on innovation
The rapid rise of LNG means it is likely to be dominant among alternative fuel for years yet, ClassNK argues
The rapid rise of LNG means it is likely to be dominant among alternative fuel for years yet, ClassNK argues

The alternative fuel markets is set to reach well beyond the now-familiar LNG, with both methanol and LPG becoming a viable source of energy for ships, according to Junichiro Iida, executive vice president, ClassNK.

These fuels have pragmatism on their side: thanks to the rising shale gas market, there’s growth in global LPG transport. LPG meets IMO sulphur requirements and, as Iida says, “it can be stored safely in liquid form at ambient temperatures at roughly just above 10 bar, [so] it is more straightforward than LNG”.

Although LPG is a low flashpoint fuel and requires certain measures to be in place, it’s not particularly volatile. With proper safety procedures it could therefore be safe enough for ship-to-ship bunkering.

On the other hand, the advantage of methanol is that it’s liquid in normal conditions, has low toxicity in comparison to traditional fuels, it is biodegradable and can be created from renewable sources. However, the biggest issue with methanol isn’t its physical but its price volatility; it could be straightened out but it has been enough to discourage investment.

Iida spoke to Stevie Knight about ClassNK’s view on the development of the alternative marine fuels market.

Do you see more builds using LPG and methanol as a fuel?

The number of alternative fuelled vessels in the world is clearly on the rise, and most likely set to continue - we have seen a growing number of alternative fuelled vessels join our register. Industry demands and new technologies are creating more possibilities.

The world's largest methanol producer, Methanex Corporation is in the process of ordering introducing four methanol powered chemical tanker newbuilds. That’s in addition to seven other vessels, the first methanol-powered tankers in the world, that they have already in operation.

Delivery of these vessels - tentatively scheduled for 2019 - will bring the total number of methanol powered chemical tankers to 11. We’ve had three of these on register since the first came under class in September 2016.

Will numbers overtake LNG-powered vessels?

At the end of 2017, there were over 110 LNG fuelled vessels in operation and this is expected to exceed 200 by 2020. [So] the numbers of methanol and LPG vessels are not expected to overtake LNG for the time being.

The role of LNG in vessels is also expanding to various other ship types, such as Sakigake, the world’s first LNG fuelled tugboat owned by NYK Line, whose development was supported by ClassNK.

This diversification is set to continue, exemplified by the issuance of Approval in Principle (AIP) for a 7,500m3 LNG bunkering vessel designed by Hanjin Heavy Industries & Construction Co by ClassNK in October 2016. The design employs type-C bi-lobe tanks that greatly increase cargo capacity, and was the result of joint research carried out by Hanjin Heavy Industries & Construction Co and ClassNK to improve the efficiency of LNG bunkering vessels.

Could Japanese yards benefit from LPG- and methanol-powered vessels in future?

By constructing vessels that employ technologies that can greatly reduce the amount of air pollutants they emit, shipyards can showcase their technical expertise to the industry. This is especially true in the case of methanol carriers, where the ability to also use cargo as a fuel source could see a rise in orders.

How is ClassNK helping to develop this fuel scenario?

As for ClassNK’s endeavours, the society supported Mitsui OSK Lines (together with Japan’s Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism) by carrying out safety evaluations for the world's first dual-fuel low-speed diesel main engine methanol supply system; a technology that greatly reduces SOx, CO2 and NOx emissions. ClassNK is working with all sectors of the industry to help ensure a safer, greener future.

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