Renewable Methanol as a Truck Fuel

Renewable Methanol as a Truck Fuel

When it comes to future zero emission fuel options, one of the less talked about options is renewable methanol as a truck fuel. Alex Smith, who is a Director at HAMR Energy outlines the potential for methanol fuel in the future.

Alex is a co-founder of HAMR Energy, which states on its website that, ‘Renewable methanol is a clean and eco-friendly liquid fuel made from sustainable sources like biomass, or by using captured carbon dioxide and hydrogen produced from renewable electricity. It’s often called bio-methanol or e-methanol and is a great alternative to traditional fossil fuels.’

He opened his presentation at the Victorian Transport Association’s Alternative Fuel Summit with an overview of the way methanol could fit into the decarbonisation toolkit.

Looking at the options that are available for decarbonisation of different transportation sectors, there are a number of factors the road transport industry needs to think about, and one of the most important is the relative distance between either refuelling or charging points and the power required by each of the transport tasks.

Many experts agree that the expectation is that electrification will be the core decarbonisation method for shorter distances, within cities and suburban areas. However, once those distances, and weight carried, start to get higher then liquid fuels, or ‘drop-in’ fuels, as the expert are now characterising them, will come to the fore.

“How many people have heard about renewable methanol as a decarbonisation tool in transport?” asked Alex, and a show of hands showed it was way less than half of the audience.

“Renewable methanol is very similar to a lot of things you have in your shed at home like methylated spirit or something like that. It’s a hydrocarbon. It’s got about half the energy density of petrol. It’s normally produced from either natural gas or coal. So it is a fossil fuel, and it’s used in all sorts of different things, like as a chemical feedstock and in a number of other ways, like pharmaceuticals.

“The colour doesn’t matter whether it’s grey or green, whatever colour, the actual molecule is the same regardless. Methanol in the traditional sense, is made from natural gas or coal and that’s got a fairly high carbon intensity using fossil fuels.”

The green methanol which HAMR is developing can be made in in two ways, one is using biomass as a feedstock, from plantation forestry, for example, as a sustainable feedstock. The other pathway is taking carbon dioxide and combining it with renewable hydrogen to create the fuel.

There is already a growing demand for renewable methanol in the shipping industry. There are more than 200 ships currently at sea, that can run on both heavy fuel oil, that’s traditionally used, and also renewable methanol, they are dual fuel operations.

Portland Project

HAMR has been helped by the Victorian Government, with funding, to develop a renewable methanol project in Portland in the west of Victoria. Portland, is a trucking hub, with 2,300 truck movements a day around the ring road. Portland is also the home for the sustainable forestry industry, which can harvest the biomass as a feedstock for a renewable methanol plant.

The company has been in receipt of a grant from the Victorian Government to bring forward a feasibility project on the production of green methanol in the area and is in the process of developing its first facility there.

“Portland has very good power connections,” said Alex. “It’s ideal for manufacturing hydrogen at scale. It’s also well situated in terms of being able to potentially export methanol, when we’re getting to that stage.

“HAMR Energy has signed a memorandum of understanding with a range of different groups including ship operators, and fuel suppliers. We’re looking at having a green methanol bunkering hub in Portland and at the Port of Melbourne, to supply major shipping customers.

“We have ambitious plans for a small company just starting off. Our background is in the oil and gas space and we’re keen to take that expertise into developing a renewable fuels market in Victoria and beyond, with a very ambitious target to have a million tonnes available from projects under development by 2030.”

The Portland project is the first of several in an ambitious plan to develop sustainable forestry biomass and use it to manufacture a future zero emission fuel. Methanol is also, potentially, a pathway to sustainable aviation fuel. Methanol can also be used to make a product called dimethyl ether (DME) which has been explored as a diesel replacement over the years.


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