In the vast expanse of our oceans, where ships traverse the globe, a revolution is unfolding to propel the shipping industry towards a cleaner and sustainable future.

Recent data reveals a compelling truth: methanol has emerged as the Number 1 choice for maritime new ship builds.

We are pleased to see methanol overtake LNG but urge the shipping industry to choose to electrify everything possible first, and adopt green fuels such as green methanol over other false solutions like LNG or other colours of methanol. Even with the promise of green methanol, the shipping industry could choose a cleaner option by selecting green hydrogen in a fuel cell.

Imagine a world where cargo ships sail through crystal-clear waters, leaving behind a minimal carbon footprint.

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As the demand for cleaner fuels intensifies and the global shipping fleet ages, the shipping industry faces a decisive and pivotal moment in choosing fuels that not only decarbonise the industry but also harmonise with our planet and our climate.

Amid the challenges of climate change, air and water pollution and other impacts from burning fossil fuels, we must explore the untapped potential of green marine fuels and technologies to revolutionise the high seas.

Unlocking green methanol

Among the promising contenders, green methanol stands out as a game-changer for the shipping industry.

Distinct from traditional fossil fuels, green methanol is derived from renewable resources and captured carbon.

Its production, devoid of reliance on fossil fuels, eliminates the risks tied to extraction and transportation, showcasing a commitment to a cleaner and more sustainable maritime future.

Specifically, green methanol is the only truly sustainable option of the colour alternatives.

Grey and blue methanol, derived from fossil fuels (with an attached carbon capture and storage system under the latter), still release climate-warming greenhouse gasses given methane leakage rates from natural gas infrastructure and transportation, not to mention the limited proven efficacy of CCS systems.

International Maritime Organization reports highlight that the adoption of green methanol in shipping could lead to a significant reduction of up to 95% in greenhouse gas emissions when compared with traditional bunker fuels.

Pitfalls of LNG

LNG has emerged as a contender in the race to decarbonise shipping.

Proponents tout its lower carbon emissions compared with traditional bunker fuels, but the devil lies in the details.

LNG, primarily composed of methane, is a fossil fuel that worsens the climate crisis. Methane has a warming impact 86 times stronger than carbon dioxide over a 20-year period.

The extraction, processing and transport of LNG comes with a high likelihood of fugitive methane leaks, which have a significant impact on greenhouse gas emissions and global temperature increase.

LNG is a stranded asset that will only impede the feasibility of truly zero-emissions solutions.

The recent decision by US President Joe Biden to pause new natural gas export terminals adds complexity to the question of viability for LNG long-term.

Climatewire has reported that the administration is reviewing LNG exports impact on climate change, and the pause could become permanent.

The administration has said that the Department of Energy “will evaluate the impacts of LNG exports on energy costs, America’s energy security, and climate change — the existential threat of our time.”

Biden also cited the “perilous” climate impacts of methane in his remarks on reasons for the pause, highlighting the pitfalls of LNG as an alternative fuel and the dangers of investing in it further.

A greener tomorrow

As the maritime world sets its compass towards a greener tomorrow, the resounding question emerges: Can we afford to cling to fossil fuels that are stranded assets? The answer is no.

Research has shown that delays in cutting shipping emissions this decade would push alignment with the Paris Agreement out of reach.

The shipping industry stands poised at the forefront of a green revolution, holding a vital role in shaping a sustainable future for our planet and our climate.

With green fuels and technologies readily available, the time has come for the industry to opt in favour of truly zero-emissions technologies and fuels during this crucial decade of the climate crisis.

The industry’s decisive actions today will determine the course of our shared environmental and climate destiny.

Jamie Yates serves as Pacific Environment’s climate and renewable energy analyst.