Methanol – the safe clean Arctic fuel?

In late November, IMO states have agreed amendments to MARPOL regulations to restrict the use of Heavy Fuel Oil (HFO) in Arctic waters, changes that have come in for criticism from environmental groups thanks to exemptions and waivers that may not see a comprehensive ban on HFO come into effect until 2029.

Among the concerns, some NGOs worry that very low sulphur fuel oil (VLSFO) used instead of HFO might contain high levels of black carbon, a particularly dangerous pollutant to the Arctic environment where it can settle on and increase the melt rate of sea ice.

Recently, the Methanol Institute is urging the maritime community to take action to mitigate pollution and emissions risk in Polar regions by adopting Methanol as marine fuel, applying safe bunkering guidelines developed by the European Committee for Standardisation (CEN).

As discussed in a previous post, one of the biggest disadvantages of methanol is that it needs support is in the logistics of bunkering, including additional safety barriers for crew and fuel handlers as methanol is considered a dangerous substance with a relatively low flashing point. This also implies a higher costs for shipping companies.

For this reason, The SEDNA project put forward technical provisions and assessment of relative safety risks along with safety zone guidance for three Methanol bunkering concepts: truck to ship, shore to ship and ship to ship. Moreover, it included a safety assessment of the implications for the environment, for vessels and their crews.

Consideration was given for ships intended to be exposed to the Arctic’s specific environmental conditions, by providing comprehensively comparative safety assessments of the use of low flash point fuels in Arctic shipping operations in place of conventional fossil fuels. The CEN Workshop Agreement on Methanol bunkering processes set out requirements for bunkering Methanol to marine vessels and included the following four elements:

  • Guidelines for usage of hardware and transfer system;
  • Operational procedures;
  • Requirement for the methanol provider to provide a bunker delivery note;
  • Training and qualification of personnel involved.

“Polar states can take immediate action to avoid another decade of heavy fuel oil (HFO) use in the Arctic and mitigate black carbon risks from very low sulphur fuel oil (VLSFO)” said Methanol Institute.

Chief Operating Officer of MI, Chris Chatterton argued that methanol is the solution for the Arctic as it emits no sulphur, very low particulate matter (PM) and less CO2 than a convention bunker fuel such.

The shipping industry knows that the use of HFO in the Arctic is unsustainable and questions around the black carbon content of VLSFO raise serious questions that need to be addressed,” said Chatterton. “Being miscible in water and biodegradable means methanol has negligible spill risk and it’s possible to use as a marine fuel with close to zero particulate matter emissions.”

Arctic Image (source: safety4sea.com)

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