Naval architecture firm Chartwell Marine has won a £320,000 Innovate UK Smart Grant to ‘develop and test the feasibility of a market-first methanol-fuelled vessel design’ alongside consortium partners.
Andy Page, Director and Naval Architect at Chartwell Marine, said: “We’re grateful to Innovate UK for the opportunity to delve deeper into the feasibility of methanol-based propulsion. As a company, we’ve delivered over 30% of hybrid vessels in the UK offshore wind market, all complete with the latest state of the art electric-diesel hybrid technology.
“That gives us a great starting point to take methanol forward in a meaningful way and cut through some of the challenges we’ve seen in the development of alternative fuels, which may be a long time from full viability.”
Methanol fuel is a type a biofuel that can be used as an alternative to the more environmentally harmful fuels that have traditionally powered marine vessels. Unlike traditional marine fuels, methanol fuel does not emit sulphur.
In 2020, the International Maritime Organisation introduced tighter regulations to reduce sulphur emissions, requiring marine fuel oils to have 0.5% sulphur content, down from 3.5%. In this respect, methanol fuel is less damaging to the environment than the type of fuels that are commonly used in the ocean transport industry.
Despite natural gas being the main feedstock for methanol fuel at present, it could be be ‘100% renewable’ if it were to be produced from a variety of renewable feedstocks or as an electrofuel, according to a report by FCBI Energy for the Methanol Institute.
Page acknowledges that there are several obstacles to overcome with the use of methanol as a marine fuel including a lack of onshore refuelling infrastructure, issues with weight, and the need to improve the efficiency of its conversion to energy.
Despite this, he hopes that Chartwell can use the funding to “target these challenges and create a proof-of-concept methanol vessel that will be cost-effective, well-engineered, and hydrodynamically optimised for deployment worldwide”.