IMO to prioritise provisions for methanol as fuel after lack of progress at CCC meeting

Development of International Maritime Organization regulations for methanol fuel is set to continue in a correspondence group (CG) after not making progress at last week’s 4th session of the IMO’s Sub-Committee on Carriage of Cargoes and Containers (CCC4).

CCC has an ongoing item on its agenda regarding amendments to the International Code of Safety for Ships using Gases or other Low-flashpoint Fuels (IGF Code), as well as developments of guidelines for other low-flashpoint fuels.

Between CCC meetings, work on draft technical provisions for using methyl/ethyl alcohol as a ship fuel has been progressing in a correspondence group (CG), which IBIA participates in. The CG has also been working on draft amendments and additions to the IGF Code regarding fuel cells.

Reporting on the work done in the CG at CCC 4 last week, the CG chair said good progress was made on the provisions, but that there were some unresolved issues, including defining fuel specifications of methyl/ethyl alcohol for marine use, standards for fuel couplings, and further consideration of guidance for bunkering and the bunker delivery note (BDN) which needs further input from engine manufacturers.

During plenary discussions, CCC 4 agreed that it would recommend to its parent committee, the Maritime Safety Committee (MSC) to invite the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) to develop of a marine fuel standard for methyl/ethyl alcohol fuels as well as a standard for methyl/ethyl fuel couplings.

CCC 4 also briefly discussed the need for toxic properties of methyl alcohol to be further considered in the context of the draft technical provisions for safety of ships using methyl/ethyl alcohol as fuel. In this context, one member state mentioned preliminary results of a study on the toxicity thresholds for humans if exposed to methyl/ethyl alcohol in confined enclosed spaces, indicating the threshold is rapidly attained.

A working group (WG) established at CCC 4 was instructed to finalise draft amendments and additions to the IGF Code regarding fuel cells, further develop draft technical provisions for ships using methyl/ethyl alcohol (which includes methanol) as a fuel and consider and/or finalise a number of draft amendments and unified interpretations (UIs) to the IGF Code. It was also asked to provide input to what issues need to be addressed in a formal safety assessment on the use of low-flashpoint diesel as a marine fuel.

The WG was instructed to give priority to the draft amendments and UIs, and the draft amendments regarding fuel cells. Because of this, it ended up not finding time to continue the development of draft technical provisions for using methyl/ethyl alcohol, nor to talk about the use of low-flashpoint diesel as a marine fuel. Nor did it manage to finalise draft amendments to the IGF Code regarding fuel cells. The same thing happened at CCC 3 last year.  (link here to )

At the end of CCC 4, the sub-committee agreed to re-establish the correspondence group to continue where the WG left off. However, after interventions by member states, there was support for the CG to shift the priority of work toward finalising draft technical provisions for the safety of ship using methyl/ethyl alcohol as fuel, over and above completing the work on fuel cells in the IGF Code. This work was said to be technically more advanced than on fuel cells.

It was also highlighted that there are already eight SOLAS ships operating internationally on methanol, and that valuable experience is being gained on these vessels.

CCC 4 also heard a presentation about MethaShip, a nationally founded German project to assess the practical and technical aspects of using methanol as a ship fuel, including the long-term sustainability compared to other fuels that – like methanol – are being considered because they are cleaner burning than oil-based fuels.

The presentation stressed the advantages of methanol compared to LNG because it is liquid at ambient temperatures making the requirements for fuel systems, as well as supply infrastructure, much easier than for LNG. It is possible to converting existing oil product tanks to holding methanol, unlike LNG which requires cryogenic storage and handling systems. The presentation emphasised that hazards involved in using methanol as a fuel are well defined.

Report by Unni Einemo

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