Methanol as diesel alternative in trucking industry faces similar challenges to shipping

Author: Anna Matherne

2021/06/22

HOUSTON (ICIS)--The use of methanol as a marine fuel alternative has become increasingly implemented as the industry makes moves toward decarbonisation, but its usage in the trucking industry remains a potential area of growth in the global effort to reduce emissions.

For 2020, an estimated 3.5m medium/heavy trucks and 12m pickups were sold globally, according to data from DOR Motors, a methanol-focused fuel alternative company.

With that, diesel is estimated to make up 97.9% of fuel used in the global trucking market.

But with global standards in place to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and decarbonise transportation high on the climate agenda, methanol continues to be a much looked at option for the market.

“It’s easy to handle, easy to store, easy to transport,” said Gil Danker, president and chairman of DOR Motors, during a webinar hosted by the Methanol Institute.

CHALLENGES AHEAD
Similar to the concerns for utilising methanol as a marine fuel, challenges remain in the application of methanol in the trucking industry, including configuring engines to run on methanol and customising additives to support methanol’s usage.

While having a similar performance to using ethanol as an energy carrier, it does take double the amount gallons of methanol to equate the output of diesel.

“Drawbacks of methanol as a fuel have always been the cost to convert engines and/or build new ones. It has historically been cheaper to use diesel versus methanol to get the same power,” said Josh Dillingham, director of Intermediate Chemicals at CDI (now part of ICIS).

This would require a highly cost competitive environment to encourage a switch.

“Margins are very thin, and people simply cannot pay extra for going green,” said BJ Johnson, CEO and co-founder of ClearFlame Engine Technologies, during the webinar.

As such, Johnson said it is estimated that 90% of the trucking market will remain reliant upon fossil fuels into 2035.

Another major challenge similar to the marine fuel industry is establishing a reliable distribution network tailored to this industry.

While the US, Canada, Trinidad and Norway could be countries of potential development based on local methanol production, exporting the product for widespread global usage, would be more difficult.

Accordingly, the petrochemical side of the methanol business will remain the main consumer of the product for the foreseeable future, but as more urgent focus turns to expanding renewables, barriers for implementing methanol as a diesel alternative are likely to dissolve.

Focus article by Anna Matherne