A quiet shift is occurring in ocean freight — one likely to change the trajectory of transoceanic shipping in the decades to come. It’s a question of fuel, specifically, rising demand for methanol-fueled ships versus more common liquid natural gas (LNG)-powered craft. In 2023, orders for methanol-fueled ships have overtaken LNG ships in a trend that shows no sign of slowing down. The question is, why?
The uptick in methanol-fueled ship orders
The maritime industry has witnessed a remarkable surge in orders for methanol-fueled ships recently. This reflects a significant shift toward more sustainable, eco-friendly shipping solutions. The current trend can be attributed to the momentum generated in 2022. DNV reported a record number of dual-fuel methanol ship orders alongside robust growth in LNG-fueled vessels in February 2023.
The market is increasingly embracing alternative fuels. In fact, methanol was the second most popular choice in 2022. Major shipping companies like HMM, CMA CGM, and MSC have placed substantial orders for dual-fuel methanol propulsion plants, further solidifying methanol’s industry position.
The spotlight on alternative fuels demonstrates the need for sustainable and environmentally friendly options in the shipping sector. This is driven by concerns about emissions and environmental regulations. The shift is evident not only in new ship orders but also in retrofitting existing vessels to meet demand.
Why methanol-fueled craft?
Methanol-fueled ships are an attractive choice for both ship owners and the maritime industry. First and foremost, methanol is a low-emission fuel. This aligns with the global push for greener and more sustainable shipping practices. Methanol’s combustion results in significantly fewer greenhouse gas emissions, sulfur oxides, and nitrogen oxides as compared to traditional fossil fuels.
Methanol is also abundant and affordable. It can be produced from various feedstocks, including natural gas, coal, biomass, and even carbon dioxide. This makes it a cost-effective fuel option. Furthermore, methanol can be used in various engine types, including both internal combustion and fuel cells. It is even adaptable to different vessel types and sizes.
Finally, methanol as a marine fuel has growing support from industry stakeholders, governments, and environmental organizations. Its reduced emissions and relative affordability offer a cleaner, more sustainable fuel option for the global supply chain.
Methanol vs. LNG
While methanol and LNG are two prominent options for cleaner marine fuels, methanol is quickly displacing LNG. Like methanol, LNG has lower emissions compared to traditional marine fuels. Its established infrastructure is one of the greatest advantages of LNG. With numerous LNG bunkering facilities and supply chains in place, LNG is more accessible for vessels operating in some regions. Furthermore, LNG has a higher energy density than methanol, meaning it can provide more power per unit volume.
In contrast, methanol is a more versatile fuel, compatible with a wider range of engine types and sizes. This allows its use in both internal combustion engines and fuel cells and makes it a practical choice for retrofitting existing vessels. Because methanol can be produced from multiple feedstocks, it’s a more stable and affordable fuel source than LNG.
Methanol costs are likely to go down even more as the industry embraces the new technology. Its increased use will stimulate greater demand. This, in turn, may lower production costs. Future advancements in methanol production technologies could also facilitate cost reductions.
The future of ocean freight is methanol-powered
The rise in methanol-fueled ship orders is a positive sign for the shipping industry and the environment. Methanol has the potential to help the shipping industry reduce its emissions and meet its environmental goals.
As ocean freight growth looms, there’s a certain peace of mind in knowing the transoceanic fleet of the future is prepared to traverse trade routes in a way that’s more efficient, affordable, and environmentally friendly.
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