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