Think about, if you’ll, a sack of fertilizer and a flask of wooden alcohol, sitting at a bar. By way of the doorway comes a streamlined ship of the ocean, a proud and exquisite cargo cruiser of the waterways of the world. She’s come to drink away her sorrows at her long-standing relationship with the unhealthy boy of power, residual bunker gas, recognized by his buddies and enemies merely as resid.

Each the sack and the flask instantly got down to woo the vessel. And they also inform her their tales of how a lot better they’d deal with her and her sisters than resid would, how accountable they’re, how lengthy their very own histories are. They inform her that whereas they’re historically don’t consort with stunning marine vessels like her, as a substitute having long-standing, non-monogamous relationships with fields and industrial crops, they want to welcome her and her sisters into their non-traditional relationship.

Now, each fertilizer and flask have soiled secrets and techniques of their very own. Each spring from the identical womb as resid. Each ton of them is produced from crude oil’s brother pure gasoline at this time, who had a a lot better picture, however has since been discovered to be nearly as coarse as resid beneath the dapper apparel.

However they each promise that they’re engaged on being higher, that they may clear up their methods, that they’ve huge plans to enhance themselves, and apart from, in comparison with resid they’re virtually altar boys. They each inform her that they’re engaged on parting methods with gasoline, and as a substitute turning to water, particularly the squeakiest clear a part of water, the saintly hydrogen. Apply slightly tingle of electrical energy, and the saint is launched to be became the contents of the flask and sack.

It’s working, too. The ship is leaning towards them, hoping to have the ability to get freed from the merciless grip of resid and the abuse he wreaks all over the place he goes. She’s prepared to consider their tales, however someplace at the back of her thoughts, slightly voice is asking, “Is that this too good to be true?”

In fact it’s.

Once I was in Glasgow at Stena Sphere’s technical summit this week, methanol as a transport gas was central to the discussions of maritime decarbonization. Ammonia was smelling up the wings however not current, as an ammonia group had declined to ship a consultant. Stena has already dominated out ammonia in any occasion, however does have a three way partnership with Proman for methanol, which implies that stakeholders within the group are already considerably dedicated to the pathway. That’s going to be problem for them, however Maersk is rather more dedicated.

Let’s begin with the fundamentals. Methanol is an alcohol that’s manufactured from pure gasoline proper now. My sources counsel 170 million tons of annual market, however the Proman consultant Peter Schild used 120 million tons because the determine. Regardless, between 100 and 200 million tons of methanol is already manufactured all over the world. The 800-pound gorilla, Methanex, buys previous chemical processing crops, rejigs them for methanol manufacturing comparatively near markets and ships quick distances to clients. The methanol trade loves the concept that its product will develop into the clear gas for maritime transport, as even with my 170 million tons and big electrification and effectivity applications chopping burnable gas calls for by two-thirds, what’s left over is a tripling of their annual market. That’s not a brand new market, that’s a multiplication of their market. If the methanol trade could make their case, they’ll be ramping up crops globally and all the present main gamers will likely be giving their shareholders dividends arduous to dream of earlier than the transition.

Ammonia isn’t an alcohol. It’s a nitrogen molecule and three oxygen molecules. We manufacture about 150 million tons of it as effectively, nearly fully for fertilizer, and likewise manufacture it largely from pure gasoline. It’s not nearly as good at burning as methanol, it has the benefit that it doesn’t have carbon, so no CO2, and the drawback that it has plenty of nitrogen and so is extra more likely to create N2O with its international warming potential of 265 occasions that of CO2. Oh, and when it interacts with water it turns from a liquid whose fumes will screw a sailor up for all times to a corrosive gasoline that may simply kill them earlier than turning into a 3rd chemical that goes again to being actually unhealthy for human well being.

Neither ammonia or methanol can share tanks with different fuels. They’re different. They’re separate. So in ports, if we wished to make use of them as marine fuels, we’d want new tanks and new pumps and new hoses, not an insurmountable requirement. We ship each of them all over the world, as each are important industrial and agricultural feedstocks. Most ports aren’t geared up to cope with both of them. Whereas the Proman consultant’s slides talked about 122 ports with methanol storage, there are about 800 ports worthy of the identify and the ports with methanol storage aren’t centered on placing the methanol in gas tanks, however distribution storage tanks.

As each ammonia and methanol are produced from pure gasoline, they’re each local weather change issues. Methanol is produced from a course of that turns the pure gasoline into an intermediate artificial gasoline which it then distills into the alcohol. Whereas the trade makes the declare that its manufacturing carbon footprint is 0.2 tons of CO2e per ton of methanol, peer-reviewed unbiased assessments put it at 1.4 tons of CO2e per ton of methanol. I discover the unbiased assessments extra dependable. And, after all, whenever you burn it, the carbon within the alcohol binds with oxygen.

Each ton of fossil-derived methanol burnt produces over three tons of CO2. Oops. Which means utilizing methanol at this time ends in about 4.5 tons of CO2e for each ton of methanol burned. That’s worse than burning resid or diesel by rather a lot, as they’ve emissions of about 2.7 tons of CO2 per ton of gas.

After which there’s the kicker. Methanol has about 45% the power density by mass as resid or diesel. That 4.5 tons turns into 10 tons. Yeah, burning methanol as a substitute of extra straight burning fossil fuels ends in 3.7 time the CO2 emissions for a similar distances traveled. In its present kind, methanol isn’t remotely an answer, it’s an amplification of the issue by an element of 4.

Ammonia represents demand for about 30 million tons of hydrogen a 12 months, and every ton of hydrogen drags 8-10 tons of CO2e behind it between upstream emissions and CO2 from steam reformation with pure gasoline. That’s about 7 tons of CO2e per ton of ammonia. When ammonia is placed on fields, a part of it turns into N2O, one of many oxides of nitrogen, with its excessive GWP of 265 occasions that of CO2. Which means the bottom emissions type of ammonia’s dominant use ends in about 10 tons of CO2e per ton of fertilizer. It’s a giant local weather change downside, in the identical magnitude vary as international aviation and marine transport, and requires fixing.

Oh, however wait. This begs the query. If placing it on fields produces plenty of nitrous oxides, what does burning it do? In any case, any combustion in our nitrogen-rich environment tends to bind oxygen and nitrogen into N2o. In fact, this has been studied. The vary of combustion in maritime engines is from 0.06 grams of N2O per kWh to 1.95 grams of N2O per kWh. What does that do to the already excessive tons of CO2e per ton of ammonia? (I actually didn’t need to do power and mass unit conversions after 20 hours of journey throughout eight timezones yesterday, so I’m going to go make one other Americano earlier than beginning this. Hopefully I’ll get it proper the primary time.)

Ammonia has an power density of 15.6 MJ/L. That 15.6 MJ is 4.3 kWh. Burning it in a high-efficiency marine engine implies that we’d get about 50% of that power as helpful ahead movement, or 2.16 kWh to be beneficiant. Heading as much as metric tons, which means about 2,160 kWh. At 0.06 grams of N2O per kWh, that’s about 0.000132 tons of N2O. At a GWP of 265, that’s the equal of solely 0.03 tons of CO2e per ton of ammonia. That’s not unhealthy.

However the increments of emissions go up quick. The following one is 0.47 grams N2o per kWh. Plugging that in will get 0.26 tons of CO2e per ton of ammonia on high of the prevailing CO2e debt. The highest finish of ammonia emissions is 1.95 grams of N2O per kWh and plugging that in ends in 1.1 tons CO2e per ton of ammonia.

Reaching the perfect case situation requires engines rigorously designed to create these ranges, cautious upkeep, and no contaminants within the ammonia. For this workup, we’ll assume that on common the second lowest is almost definitely, and add 0.26 tons of CO2e to emissions.

And it has a decrease power density than methanol, about 42% that of resid or diesel. That implies that whereas it doesn’t produce CO2 when burned (no carbon within the NH3 molecule), its precise carbon footprint per nautical mile is over six occasions that of resid or diesel at this time.

Table of maritime CO2e emissions comparing diesel, methanol and ammonia

Desk of maritime CO2e emissions evaluating diesel, methanol, and ammonia

Unabated methanol used at this time in marine engines would lead to full-lifecycle greenhouse gasoline emissions 3.7 occasions that of burning present maritime fossils fuels. It’s a lot worse for ammonia, with 6.4 occasions the full-lifecycle emissions.

And don’t neglect that an ammonia spill in a significant port might lead to tens of 1000’s of human deaths, and an ammonia leak within the enclosed areas of a ship might kill a number of sailors. Frankly, I used to be baffled earlier than doing this work-up about why anybody would contemplate ammonia, but it surely’s nonetheless going.

Given these greenhouse gasoline emissions, clearly they should have an answer, and naturally, they do. Principally it’s a inexperienced hydrogen story, however there’s a facet story for methanol which may make it viable, so let’s begin there.

Pure gasoline is about 88% to 92% methane (Ch4) and numerous hint components. As I’ve been noting, most lately in my biofuels pathways survey, we unintentionally create lots of methane from how our agriculture and waste streams are organized. Each pile of rotting agricultural stalks, livestock dung, and each landfill web site with meals waste in it’s rotting beneath its floor with none oxygen round. Microbes which might be high quality with that eat the biomass and emit methane.

As we’re dumping a full third of our meals manufacturing as waste, about 2.5 billion tons a 12 months, as 20% of land mass is underneath crops the place we largely solely use the fruits, and as 20% or so is dedicated to animal husbandry, that’s an terrible lot of biomethane produced yearly. I don’t know the way a lot, however methane has a GWP that’s 26-89 occasions that of CO2, so any emissions are an issue. (To repeat a request: anybody who has supply for complete anthropogenic biomethane emissions, please share them with me.)

A few of that biomethane is concentrated or will be concentrated. Landfills can and are drilled with assortment pipes. Cattle milking barns can have the methane filtered from the air flow system. Most of it isn’t concentrated at this time, however it’s doable to seize at the very least among the methane emissions we’re inflicting. And if we try this and put it into current methanol manufacturing processes, it behaves precisely the identical approach as pure gasoline, and so we take a local weather change downside on the one hand (biomethane) and use it to get rid of a local weather change downside however (fossil methanol).

In fact, that’s not how actuality works. In actuality, the folks selling biomethane are promoting anaerobic digesters which rather more rapidly create methane from rotting biomass. In my world, the place I’m on the lookout for precise local weather options, deliberately making extra methane in a leaking distribution and use system isn’t a local weather resolution, however an issue. I’ve thought by the logistics of this, and whereas it’s doable to make a comparatively low-emission end-to-end anaerobic digestion and built-in methanol plant, it requires lots of cautious design and ongoing effort at each step of the method to forestall anaerobic digestion within the accumulating feedstocks and emissions from the manufacturing. And to be clear, a few of that is shared with my most well-liked pathway of biofuels that don’t contain biomethane. Bringing giant quantities of biomass to an industrial biofuels facility would require some care to scale back methane emissions in transit and storage.

It’s like evaluating Norway’s high-quality methane leakage management and monitoring to the USA’s, Russia’s, and the Center East’s abysmal observe data. There will likely be main practices, however they may value cash and cautious consideration, and the overwhelming majority of the producers gained’t spend the cash or take the care.

Anaerobic digesters, in different phrases, are as a lot a local weather change downside as a local weather change resolution. I’m not a fan.

And the opposite possibility, bringing the methanol reactor to the supply of methane we’re creating, doesn’t minimize it both. Paul Martin is within the enterprise of creating chemical processing crops like these, and has been for many years. He jogged my memory that this sort of factor has been tried earlier than, with modular small chemical processing crops hooked up to an oil subject’s methane flaring system, diverting the utterly free methane right into a small plant to make methanol or different substances. Regardless of utterly free feedstock that’s already concentrated, none of those crops might make any cash. That was in opposition to the worth level of unabated methanol and related substances, so maybe there’s some faint hope at this time, however chemical processing likes to be scaled, with a number of as-big-as-possible modular chemical crops consolidated on the identical web site, with sturdy efficiencies of provide and distribution.

I’m nonetheless very bullish on lowering or mitigating biomethane manufacturing at supply. That features seaweed extract meals dietary supplements for livestock that scale back methane belching by as much as 80%, burning or producing electrical energy from landfill methane emissions on the web site, mechanically rotating plant matter middens to permit decomposition that produces CO2 as a substitute of methane, clearing biomass rigorously from hydro reservoirs earlier than filling, and diverting as a lot biomass waste as doable into largely non-methanol pathways for biofuels.

Setting apart biomethane to methanol, each methanol and ammonia have one other pathway: inexperienced hydrogen.

That is extra problematic for methanol than ammonia, which is a part of ammonia’s pitch. Ammonia crops have a pure gasoline pipeline getting in, they use steam reformation to separate the methane into hydrogen and CO2, they dump the CO2 into the air and put the hydrogen into their course of, which binds it with nitrogen from the air. Exchange the pure gasoline pipe and steam reformation part with a water pipe and an electrical energy line, and exchange the steam reformation part with an electrolyzer, and it’s enterprise as common after that.

Many of the steadiness of plant will be maintained. That’s nice as a result of it means these roughly 7 tons of CO2e per ton of ammonia have a transparent pathway to the longer term. Don’t neglect, they’re a giant client of hydrogen to make their 150 million tons of ammonia at this time. They’ve a pathway to fixing their major local weather downside, however largely the ammonia trade is targeted on multiplying the local weather downside by promoting ammonia as a transport gas.

To be clear, if the ships have been powered by inexperienced ammonia made solely with low-carbon electrical energy, that will be a local weather win, however each joule of power in ammonia is hydrogen. And turning water into hydrogen with electrical energy, even at level of consumption, throws away 30% to 40% of the power within the electrical energy. That is affordable when the hydrogen isn’t the purpose, the nitrogen is, and it’s used as a fertilizer to feed our teeming billions, but it surely’s not economically affordable for fuels.

Methanol will be made synthetically by beginning with hydrogen and carbon molecules, however that’s not the way it’s made at this time. Whereas the declare is that they may be capable of adapt their crops, it’s a totally totally different know-how with totally different feedstocks. They may be capable of protect the shell of the constructing, the methanol storage tanks, and the distribution community, however since they’re positioned the place there was plenty of pure gasoline, not plenty of electrical energy and CO2, most of these crops aren’t in the appropriate locations. That’s an issue that’s considerably shared by ammonia, which will get its nitrogen from the air, however nonetheless wants plenty of water and electrical energy it won’t be effectively sited for.

Each of these replacements with inexperienced hydrogen as a feedstock require vital capital value expenditures between MW++ electrical energy on the crops, electrolyzers, and water deliveries. It appears to be like like methanol’s can be larger given full course of alternative. As I’ve famous repeatedly, hydrogen will be inexperienced, however it may well’t be low cost. They each have two decisions. The primary is that they’ll scale the hydrogen electrolyzer to supply the quantity of hydrogen that they require for steady operation, which requires firmed electrical energy which is able to value extra. Or they’ll scale the electrolyzer to supply hydrogen when electrical energy from renewables occurs to be working, which is able to imply that the electrolysis plant capex will likely be a considerably greater portion of the associated fee case, they usually’ll have to incorporate a bunch of hydrogen storage and compression of their capital and working prices.

The web result’s that whereas methanol and ammonia are comparatively cheap industrial commodities when made with unabated pure gasoline whereas utilizing the environment as an open sewer, they’re going to be rather more costly sooner or later.

And so again to the story. The claims that the methanol and ammonia industries are making are seductive. They state, rightly, that they’re globally-scaled industries at this time producing high-quality methanol and ammonia that ships might use within the acceptable engines at this time. They state rightly that whereas costlier than diesel or resid at this time, additionally they burn extra cleanly outdoors of CO2e emissions, with no sulphur or carbon black emissions. They state rightly that they’ve apparent pathways to having a lot decrease carbon emissions. They declare, much less accurately, that they’ll reuse current infrastructure and processes. They declare, rightly, that they’re a bit cheaper at this time than biodiesel.

However what they pass over of their tales — and bear in mind I listened to the Proman pitch personally this week — is that utilizing present methanol or ammonia that’s been produced from pure gasoline can be a local weather catastrophe and that the maritime trade investing in capital expenditures in ports and on ships to make use of methanol and ammonia are locking themselves into vastly costlier future working prices for gas. They usually pass over the fact that biodiesel goes to get rather a lot cheaper because it scales massively.

When listening to gross sales pitches, it’s good to query the numbers you might be listening to and to ask your self what the salesperson is omitting. In gross sales pitches for methanol and ammonia for maritime fuels, the numbers don’t add up, and the omissions are evident. The extra I dig into them, the extra I’m comfy that batteries and biodiesel will dominate.


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