With the only methanol bunkering infrastructure situated in Northern Europe, it seems Asia-Europe is the most viable trade for Maersk’s new 16,000teu vessel design.
However, Maersk may need to wait a while before it can run its vessels on the new fuel.
The routes are “still to be decided”, explained Maersk’s Concepción Boo Arias. “But if you look at where the Hong-Kong class vessels are deployed, you will have an idea of where these new vessels will be deployed.
“It is going to be dependent on where we can refuel them. The current [green methanol] bunkering locations are in Northern Europe… but it is not going to be the same reality in two years’ time.”
On Wednesday, Morten Bo Christiansen, Maersk’s head of decarbonisation strategy, said that while the carrier had a sufficient supply of green methanol already secured to run its 2,100 teu feeder vessel, a widescale supply would most likely have to wait.
Referring to eight 16,000 teu vessels ordered in August, expected to be delivered from Q1 2024, he said: “I’m still optimistic that we will get at least some of these operating on green methanol in 2024,” but added, “2025 is looking a lot better. Will we get it for the maiden journey for the first ship? I cannot promise.”
But a lot can happen in two years. Speaking with Ole Graa Jakobsen, head of fleet technology, emphasised that the key consideration behind Maersk’s drive toward methanol had to do with the technology already existing.
“It is a clear winner,” he said. “It’s the only [carbon-neutral] solution that is there – besides running on biodiesel, which we do on some of our vessels. Methanol has already been used as propulsion for 10 years… With ammonia, there’s no engine, the earliest an engine will be available is 2024. In terms of the toxicity, the environmental impact is much less with methanol than with ammonia.
“We have decided that we will not sit and wait for someone to supply green fuels for no reason. People will only invest in fuel development, plants and logistics if there is demand, and we started this year by ordering the first small [methanol-fuelled] feeder vessel in order to create this demand.
“We have been in discussions with developers seeking investment for building plants, and the meeting would always end by asking how much fuel we need and what we’re going to pay for it. We are not able to answer this question unless we have a project. Now we can have a more commercial-oriented dialogue.”
Mr Jakobsen explained: “We have defined a standard for the interface between the ship and the methanol bunkering vessel, in order to have the correct procedures in place, we have a vapour return arranged. We are looking into which type of bunker barges we can use, because the amount of methanol we need is probably more in the size of a small tanker. The details are still in development.
“The challenge around methanol is its low flashpoint,” he continued. “Normal bunker procedures are designed for fuels with a flashpoint above 60 degrees. It is similar to a gas in that respect, so we need to make sure our procedures are designed for that. Double-wall barriers, double-wall piping – we need to make sure that no single failure could expose the methanol vapours to areas where it could ignite.”
Of concern for naval architects is that the new design’s unusual fore-mounted superstructure potentially exposes the crew to more vessel pitching that causes seasickness. But Mr Jakobsen said simulations had demonstrated this would not be an issue, saying the motions would be similar to “what would be experienced in the middle of a smaller vessel”.
Maersk has also had to change the way the lifeboats are laid out on the vessel, and to consider how the separated accommodation and engine room will be affected in a scenario of a container fire amidships – one with which Maersk is intimately familiar, following the catastrophic blaze on Maersk Honam in 2018.
“It is more challenging to launch a standard lifeboat from the fore end… it is easier to do it from the back,” Mr Jakobsen explained. “We have lifesaving equipment on both sides of the accommodation, as well as at the rear of the vessel at the engine compartment. We have had to make a different design, and we are working very closely with the Danish flag and ABS to make this as safe as possible for our crew.
“We have divided the vessel into different risk zones, and we are ensuring that we are not placing the most high-risk cargo close to the accommodation or to the engine compartment. When you have a fire, if it really goes out of control and external firefighting is needed, then it’s about gaining time. With a large space between the engine and accommodation, we will actually have more time before the fire reaches the very dangerous areas. So we do see this as being at least as safe as other container designs.”