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ALSO WORTH READING

Ditch the diesel to make way for methanol

It is time to shine the spotlight on methanol fuel as a viable option to reduce carbon emissions.
It is time to shine the spotlight on methanol fuel as a viable option to reduce carbon emissions.
26 June 2024 •

Fossil fuels have burned long enough. Oil, coal, and natural gas have stubbornly dominated the energy arena for eons, accounting for over 80 percent of global energy needs in 2023.

The logistics sector takes the lion’s share of fossil fuel consumption. The 8.7 exajoules of energy it consumed in 2021 was derived entirely from fossil fuels.

This is where methanol comes in to challenge the dominance of fossil fuels. A simple alcohol that burns cleaner and emits fewer pollutants than fossil fuels, methanol is a sustainable fuel that could be a game-changer in reducing the logistics industry’s carbon footprint.

Before exploring the potential of methanol, it is important to understand the environmental impact of fossil fuels and why replacing them with green alternatives is essential.

Focalizing the fossil fuel problem

Although fossil fuels have long powered the world’s logistical networks, this has come at a great cost to the environment. Their combustion releases greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and fluorinated gases, of which carbon dioxide is the most prominent. Constituting at least 76 percent of total greenhouse gas emissions, carbon dioxide is the largest contributor to global warming.

Carbon emissions are often closely scrutinized to determine the environmental impact of energy consumption. According to a Dec 2023 research report published by the Global Carbon Project, global carbon emissions were estimated to exceed 40 billion tons in 2023, of which nearly 37 billion tons came from burning fossil fuels.

Like other industries, the level of carbon emissions is used to evaluate efficiency energy usage in transportation.
Like other industries, the level of carbon emissions is used to evaluate the efficiency of energy usage in transportation.

Specific to logistics, freight transportation contributes approximately 8 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. This figure increases to 11 percent when warehousing operations are factored in. Thus, the logistics industry must lead the way in identifying alternatives to fossil fuels and power its operations sustainably.

Taking the fossils out of fuels with methanol

Methanol is one such alternative, carrying the potential to reduce the logistics industry’s carbon footprint. It is a liquid chemical that can be produced from various sources such as natural gas or biomass.

According to a joint study between Methanol Institute and Finland’s GENA Solutions Oy, renewable methanol cuts carbon dioxide emissions by up to 95 percent. It even has the added benefit of reducing nitrogen oxide emissions by up to 80 percent.

The key secret behind methanol’s decarbonization capabilities lies behind its ability to be a truly renewable fuel. This is made possible by mixing green hydrogen with captured carbon dioxide to create e-methanol. The carbon dioxide in this equation can be captured directly from existing logistics processes and even the atmosphere, creating a closed-loop, near-zero-emission system.

Methanol fuel’s chemical formula was created to be entirely renewable.
Methanol fuel’s chemical formula was created to be entirely renewable.

Methanol is also ideal for logistics processes, boasting a high energy density of 15.8 MJ/L. This means it can store substantial amounts of energy in any given volume, enabling it to meet the heavy fuel demands of long-haul shipping and heavy-duty transportation.

The costly conundrum of switching to methanol

Despite the benefits of methanol in making logistics and other energy–consuming processes more sustainable, its widespread adoption can prove to be tricky.

To begin, methanol’s environmental benefits are reliant on its production method, which comes in various forms. Should a fuel provider produce methanol from burning fossil fuels, doing so is antithetical to the goal of reducing reliance on fossil fuels for energy.

Furthermore, methanol as a fuel is still a new concept. While existing infrastructure can be adapted to produce methanol, it is still essential to construct dedicated bunkering facilities and production plants for this purpose.

Facilities dedicated to methanol fuel bunkering and production need to be built due to its unique production method.
Facilities dedicated to methanol fuel bunkering and production need to be built due to its unique production method.

Switching to methanol is also a costly affair. Supply chain analyst firm Drewry estimates that green fuel will remain more costly than traditional fuels. Despite the European Union’s plan to tax fossil fuel usage, Drewry’s projection places e-methanol fuels to cost four times more than Very Low Sulphur Fuel Oil (VLSFO) up till 2026.

However, with technological advancements and increasing demand, the costs of producing and adopting methanol are expected to reduce with time.

Methylating the future of logistics

Despite the challenges associated with adopting methane, several companies and countries have already begun exploring the potential of methanol. Shipping giants are exploring the feasibility of methanol-powered vessels, while countries like Norway and Singapore are developing infrastructure to produce and bunker e-methanol.

With global warming continuing to intensify with the global average temperature exceeding 1.5 degrees Celsius from February 2023 to January 2024, it is now especially crucial to identify sustainable fuel alternatives and adopt them on a large scale.

Methanol may just be the answer to the fuel problem in the logistics industry, paving the way for a cleaner and greener future.