Alfa Laval to begin large-scale methanol testing

By Jack Burke08 March 2021

Goal of running without engine modifications, pilot fuel

Major tests of methanol as a marine fuel will soon begin at the Alfa Laval Test & Training Center in Aalborg, Denmark.

Working closely with MAN Energy Solutions and other partners, Alfa Laval will explore the possibility of running the center’s four-stroke, 2 MW diesel engine on methanol, without modifications or another pilot fuel. The testing is the third stage in an ongoing research project funded by Danish Energy Technology Development and Demonstration Program (EUDP).

Initiated two years ago, the EUDP-funded methanol project partners Alfa Laval and MAN Energy Solutions with the Danish Technological Institute (DTI), Technical University of Denmark (DTU) and biofuel producer Nordic Green. Through joint research, the consortium seeks to develop a methanol fuel system that can adapt to today’s marine diesel engines. Methanol, which is abundant and clean-burning, is one of the most promising fossil-free fuels available for future shipping, the company said.

“At present, combusting methanol requires a pilot ignition with fuel oil,” said Lars Skytte Jørgensen, vice president Technology Development, Alfa Laval Marine Division. “This necessitates two fuel lines and different types of fuel tanks on board. If methanol from renewable sources could be burned directly in standard compression engines, it would offer a shortcut to carbon-neutral shipping.”

Burning methanol in an unmodified diesel engine will require new engine software, which must be developed through engine testing and work with combustion modelling.

Lars Skytte Jørgensen, Vice President Technology Development, Alfa Laval.

Early tests of the concept on smaller engines at the Technical University of Denmark (DTU) and later at the Danish Technological Institute (DTI) showed promising results. This led to a small-scale experiment with methanol at the Alfa Laval Test & Training Centre, using a single cylinder of the center’s 2 MW marine engine.

“We were excited at just how well the one-cylinder experiment ran,” said Jørgensen. “And now we are ready to proceed with wider testing.”

Alfa Laval has already equipped the Alfa Laval Test & Training Center with tanks and ancillary equipment for working with biofuels. The tanks have been readied for an exceptional delivery from Nordic Green, who supplied the green methanol in March.

“We produce our methanol from waste sources instead of new biomass,” said Bo Gleerup, CEO at Nordic Green. “This means the coming combustion tests will be neutral in CO2 impact – exactly as the operation of tomorrow’s vessels needs to be.”

Once the fuel arrives, the first task will be determining how to handle it at scale. Because methanol is a liquid at room temperature, it can be stored in unpressurized tanks. However, a low flashpoint of 7°C makes methanol highly volatile – despite the challenge of igniting it through compression. After working out the handling practicalities, broader tests of methanol in the unmodified engine will commence in April.

Alfa Laval said methanol testing is part of looking ahead at the marine fuel landscape, which will shift from today’s emphasis on LNG to methanol and then renewable ammonia. Although the current project has the engine in focus, it provides a practical catalyst for much wider development work at the Alfa Laval Test & Training Center. Alfa Laval’s scope, while excluding the engine itself, includes many applications that will be influenced by future fuels.

“We were investigating LNG combustion at the Alfa Laval Test & Training Center long before the LNG market began moving in earnest,” Jørgensen said. “Understanding the fuel and how it works in depth is of huge importance before bringing anything to market. The same will be true for methanol and ammonia.”

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