IMO takes important step to facilitate use of methanol
An IMO sub-committee has completed draft interim guidelines for the safety of ships using methyl/ethyl alcohol as fuel, setting them on course for formal approval by the IMO’s Maritime Safety Committee (MSC) in 2020.
The goal of these guidelines is to provide for safe and environmentally-friendly design, construction and operation of ships and in particular their installations of systems for propulsion machinery, auxiliary power generation machinery and/or other purpose machinery using methyl/ethyl alcohol as fuel.
The draft guidelines were completed by the 5th session of the IMO’s sub-Committee on Carriage of Cargoes and Containers (CCC 5) last week, finalising work that has been progressing in the Correspondence Group on Development of Technical Provisions for the Safety of Ships using Low-flashpoint Fuels, which IBIA participates in with input from members with specialist knowledge. IBIA was also a co-sponsor of a document seeking to clarify a few remaining issues submitted to CCC 5 by Norway, IACS, IBIA and ITF.
Speaking at CCC 5 last week, IBIA urged the sub-Committee to give the utmost priority to finalising the draft technical provisions for the safety of ships using methyl/ethyl alcohol as fuel, given that there are already eight large ships trading internationally operating on methanol as fuel and at least four more expected to enter into service in 2019.
Methanol is a clean-burning fuel that emits low levels of NOx and particulate matter and it is virtually sulphur-free. Studies also suggest that the use of renewable methanol has huge potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
While the ultimate goal is to add a new chapter on methyl/ethyl alcohol to the International Code of Safety for Ships using Gases or other Low-flashpoint Fuels (IGF Code), CCC 5 agreed that interim guidelines should be finalised urgently, with a commitment to add new part to IGF Code as soon as possible.
A working group at CCC 5 completed the draft and on Friday September 14, CCC 5 agreed, in principle, to the draft interim guidelines for the safety of ships using methyl/ethyl alcohol as fuel and to invite MSC 100, which will meet in December, to endorse as an urgent matter referring safety topics requiring input from other technical sub-committees for their consideration.
These other technical sub-committees will then be able to inform CCC 6 which meets in September 2019. This means the interim guidelines should be ready for formal approval by MSC in the first half of 2020.
The draft interim guidelines contain a definition of such fuels as follows: “Fuel means methyl/ethyl alcohol fuels, containing allowable additives or impurities, suitable for the safe operation on board ships, complying with an international standard.” Earlier this year, MSC 99 invited ISO to develop a fuel standard for methyl/ethyl alcohol fuels.
The only legal framework for using fuels with a lower flashpoint is the IGF Code, which entered into force on January 1, 2017. It was developed to deal with LNG, but its general requirements nevertheless applies to all vessels above 500 gross tonnage that install low flash point fuel systems. Specific regulations for other low-flashpoint fuels can be added as new chapters to the Code, but in the meantime, ships installing fuel systems to operate on other types of low flashpoint fuels will need to individually demonstrate that their design meet the Code’s general requirements.
The interim guidelines for methyl/ethyl alcohol should facilitate this process by making the requirements clearer.
Report by Unni Einemo