The development of a variety of eco-friendly energy sources has turned the early 21st century into an international environmental arms race. On June 20th, China started sea trials of the first dual-fuel tanker that runs on methanol, which has been described as a “watershed moment” by the vice president of Guangzhou Shipyard International (GSI), the company responsible for the construction of the ship.
The initial contract, signed with the Swedish-Swiss joint venture Proman Stena Bulk, consists of a total of three dual-fuel tankers of 49.990 DWT (deadweight tonnage). One is complete; two remaining tankers are due to be finished this year, but the project has been so successful that the deal has already been extended to construct three additional ships of the same design.
Guangzhou Shipyard International vice president William Zhou called the construction “a massive achievement for all parties involved.” He said that GSI is “absolutely committed to leading innovation in alternative fuelled ships,” and hoped to show “how methanol can be deployed safely and at relatively low cost.” Compared to tankers running on conventional fuel, the methanol hybrid tanker could reduce carbon emissions by 75%, as well as nitrogen emissions by 15%, and sulfur and particulate emissions by 99%. Compared to diesel, methanol is also less hazardous to the environment in case of a spill, as it degrades rapidly.
China has been embracing the development of environmentally friendly technology, a philosophy reflected in the strategy of GSI. “Decarbonising maritime is the challenge of our generation and GSI is doing all it can to develop the latest thinking and technology,” said Zhou. “GSI has a clear sustainability strategy with the twin aim of building greener ships and being a greener shipyard.” In his statement, Zhou continued to stress the various green achievements of his shipyard, which included hitting the “Zero Waste Factory Standard,” the “Shipbuilding Air Emission Control Standard,” as well as the “Green Shipyard status by the Guangzhou Local Government in 2021.”
The Chinese shipyard won the competition for the construction of the ships against a company from South Korea. As one of the world’s leading shipyards building environmentally friendly ships, GSI is also working on ships running on liquified gas (LNG) and even on electricity. Currently, GSI is under contract to build a total of 38 environmentally friendly ships for a variety of customers. Compared to other alternative fuels, including LNG, methanol is hailed for its abundant availability in more than 100 harbors world-wide, and its low overall price point.
The news comes as a bitter pill. While the European Greens are being forced to make concessions and relaunch coal plants to fill the gap created by cutting ties with Russian gas, China has taken the lead in terms of so-called sustainable energy projects.