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Wärtsilä Predicts Strong Uptake for Green Methanol as Marine Fuel

stena germanica
Stena Germanica, the world's first methanol-fueled vessel (Wärtsilä / Stena)

Published May 19, 2021 11:30 PM by The Maritime Executive

Methanol-fueled propulsion has strong potential for decarbonizing shipping, according to top execs at Wärtsilä. Though methanol derived from natural gas is a high-carbon option due to emissions during production, synthetic methanol made from green hydrogen or biomass would be a low-carbon choice - and an attractive one. 

"We have had an engine running on methanol since 2015," said Roger Holm, President Marine Power & EVP, Wärtsilä Corporation. "The technology is already there for day-to-day use. . . . From our perspective, this is the [low-carbon] fuel we may see moving fastest." 

Vessels can be built today to transition to methanol and other alternative fuels tomorrow, according to Wärtsilä director of R&D and engineering Juha Kytölä, helping the owner to de-risk the low-carbon transition. For example, a vessel fitted with a stainless steel, insulated LNG tank could later use the same storage system for synthetic methane, green ammonia or methanol. 

Engine technology will have to evolve to match, and Wärtsilä is working on new fuel-flexible systems that run on zero-carbon alternatives. It already has a methanol-fueled engine, and "in 2021, we will have the industry's first engine running on ammonia," said Kytölä. He predicted that the first pilot installations with the company's ammonia design will occur within a few years' time.

"What we know is that multifuel technology is here already today. Therefore combustion engines offer an enormous potential for even a rapid carbon emission reduction. Fuel-flexible engine technology gives an upgrade path for both existing and new vessels, from transition fuels to green fuels," said Kytölä. 

Shared risk

As propulsion systems evolve and new technology enters the market, the contractual relationships between engine manufacturers and shipowners will likely evolve as well, Holm said. The aftersales performance agreements between propulsion system manufacturers and shipowners may take on new forms, including risk-sharing arrangements that split the cost of technical challenges with new systems. For Wärtsilä, that includes risks related to unscheduled maintenance, downtime, fuel consumption, emissions reductions and compliance.

"We are prepared to guarantee an outcome and share the risks with our customers," said Holm.