With the right political support, renewable methanol has the potential to move from chemical building block to mainstream energy source, writes Methanol Institute CEO Gregory Dolan.
For the maritime sector to meet the IMO’s 2050 carbon emission reduction targets, large-scale investment and technological transition will be required.
This is a progressive process, but there is no doubt, that the end point is sustainably produced fuels from renewable sources, enabling a net carbon neutral performance on the ship; from well to wake.
We are under no illusions about how difficult this will be and, although the shipping industry hears a lot about potential options, few are currently available at the scale required or have the necessary regulatory approvals to enable their adoption.
This is one of the available options currently being considered by shipowners, as it has industry acceptance and regulatory approvals, and offers a number of renewable pathways that could enable a carbon neutral solution in the long term.
A new joint report from the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) and the Methanol Institute – “Innovation Outlook: Renewable Methanol” – indicates that increased renewable methanol production can provide the necessary platform to support cost-effective decarbonization.
While transitioning the global economy to carbon neutral energy will require massive investments in technology development, infrastructure and deployment, economies of scale for renewable methanol production and use will lead to competitive fuel pricing for multiple sectors, the report notes. It concludes that renewable methanol, as a liquid with the highest hydrogen-to-carbon ratio of all liquid fuels, can be a key energy source.
Annual global methanol production nearly doubled in the last decade to reach about 98 million metric tons (MMT) in 2019 and is expected to grow to more than 120 MMT by 2025 and 500 MMT by 2050.
IRENA’s Transformational Energy Scenario (TES) outlines an ambitious but realistic energy transformation pathway based largely on renewable energy sources and steadily improving energy efficiency. This would put the energy system on the path needed to keep global temperature rise well below 2°C and towards 1.5°C during this century.
Based on TES assumptions, IRENA estimates that future methanol production in 2050 could be composed as follows
– Methanol from biomass: 135 Mt
– Methanol from green hydrogen and captured CO2: 250 Mt
– Methanol from fossil fuels: 115 Mt
According to the report, land and marine transportation are likely to be the main drivers for the expansion of renewable methanol, due to the mandates and legislation that regulatory authorities are increasingly establishing to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and achieve sustainability goals.
Since methanol can be used in existing combustion engines, as well as in more advanced powertrains and chemical production processes, conventional gray and blue methanol can be used today, with a transition to green methanol over time. This makes renewable methanol uniquely positioned to be a future-proof fuel.
The report concludes that as energy investment decisions will increasingly be driven by governments, the world’s energy destiny is in the hands of policy makers.
Developing the right policies and incentives is crucial to achieving the goals of carbon emissions reduction, energy security, sustainability and improved quality of life. Sufficient investment in long-lived capital-intensive renewable technologies will not occur without reliance on sound, stable, measurable, predictable and sustained policy.