Green methanol has gained attention as a clean and sustainable energy carrier, with potential applications in various sectors. It is produced renewably without polluting emissions. Read here to learn more about the green fuel.
Globally, the shipping industry is turning towards green fuels as they need a fast solution to the emissions problem.
Recently, the shipping company Maersk unveiled the world’s first vessel using green methanol. But clean methanol still has cost and safety issues
In India, NITI Aayog believes green methanol can be used to power rail, road, and shipping. It reckons the new fuel can partially replace LPG for cooking.
Green methanol, often referred to as renewable or sustainable methanol, is a type of methanol produced from renewable feedstocks or processes, in contrast to traditional or “gray” methanol, which is typically derived from fossil fuels, such as natural gas or coal.
- Biomethanol is produced from the gasification of sustainable biomass sources such as livestock, agricultural and forestry residues, and municipal waste.
- e-methanol is produced from hydrogen produced from renewable electricity (green hydrogen) and captured carbon dioxide.
Green methanol is produced from renewable feedstocks, which can include the following:
- Biomass: Methanol can be synthesized from organic materials like agricultural residues, wood waste, and dedicated energy crops.
- Carbon Dioxide (CO2): One innovative approach is to capture CO2 emissions from industrial processes or directly from the atmosphere and convert it into methanol.
- Municipal Solid Waste (MSW): Organic waste components can be used to produce methanol through gasification and syngas conversion.
- Green Hydrogen: Green methanol production may involve the use of hydrogen produced through renewable energy-powered electrolysis.
Green methanol is typically produced through a series of chemical reactions.
- For biomass or MSW-based production, the feedstock is gasified to create syngas (a mixture of hydrogen and carbon monoxide).
- This syngas is then catalytically converted into methanol. For CO2-based production, CO2 is combined with hydrogen to produce methanol.
Grey and Blue Methanol
Like other compounds or materials, methanol is classified according to the degree of sustainability of its production process, making it a more or less environmentally friendly raw material, and therefore more or less useful for contributing to decarbonization.
It is obtained by synthesis reaction from methane present in natural gas (or in some cases, as in China, still from coal). It is therefore not a renewable or clean energy.
It is also obtained by synthesis derived from natural gas, but includes as part of the process the capture and storage of the carbon generated during its production, converting it into a less polluting product.
Benefits of green methanol
- Clean fuel: Green methanol is considered a more environmentally friendly alternative to gray methanol because it reduces greenhouse gas emissions. By using renewable feedstocks or captured CO2, the carbon footprint of green methanol production is significantly lower.
- Energy Carrier: Methanol is a versatile energy carrier that can be used in various sectors, including transportation, industry, and power generation. It can serve as a fuel for internal combustion engines and fuel cells, a feedstock for the chemical industry, and an energy storage medium.
- Transportation Fuel: Green methanol can be used as an alternative transportation fuel, particularly in areas with limited access to other renewable energy sources. It can be blended with gasoline or diesel or used as a stand-alone fuel in specially designed methanol-powered vehicles.
- Marine and Aviation Fuels: Green methanol is of interest in the maritime and aviation sectors as a potential low-carbon fuel. It can be used in methanol-fueled ships and aircraft to reduce emissions.
- Energy Storage: Methanol can be used for energy storage in power-to-methanol systems. It can store excess electricity generated from renewable sources and release it when needed, which can help balance grid demand.
- It can also be used in both internal propulsion engines and to power fuel cells, providing flexibility depending on individual needs.
Read: Green Shipping
Methanol economy of India
NITI Aayog’s ‘Methanol Economy‘ program is aimed at reducing India’s oil import bill, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and converting coal reserves and municipal solid waste into methanol.
- Methanol can replace both these fuels in the transport sector (road, rail, and marine), the energy sector (comprising DG sets, boilers, process heating modules, tractors, and commercial vehicles), and retail cooking (replacing LPG partially, kerosene and wood charcoal).
- Blending 15% methanol in gasoline can result in at least a 15% reduction in the import of gasoline/crude oil.
- In addition, this would bring down GHG emissions by 20% in terms of particulate matter, NOx, and SOx, thereby improving the urban air quality.
- The methanol Economy will also create close to 5 million jobs through methanol production/application and distribution services.
- Additionally, Rs 6000 crore can be saved annually by blending 20% DME (Di-methyl Ether, a derivative of methanol) in LPG.
The Methanol Economy is the “Bridge” to the dream of a complete “Hydrogen based fuel system”.
- Methanol has the potential to be an enduring solution to human energy needs because the belched out C02 (greenhouse gas emission) both from using Methanol and while producing Methanol can be tapped back to produce Methanol. Thereby a seamless loop of CO2 sequestration cycle is created to perpetually burn fuels without polluting the environment at all.
- Methanol is a clean burning drop in fuel that can replace both petrol & diesel in transportation & LPG, Wood, and Kerosene in cooking fuel.
- Another major area where methanol can reduce pollution is the Energy sector. India has an installed capacity of 22000 MW on HFO (Heavy fuel oil) alone. HFO is one of the dirtiest fuels and most countries of the world have abandoned it. The entire HFO usage can be replaced by Methanol.
Also read: Green shipbuilding in India
While green methanol offers several advantages, challenges remain:
- The cost of production is still significantly higher than those of today’s natural gas- and coal-based methanol production
- The availability of renewable feedstocks is a challenge as well.
- Adoption of Methanol as a transport fuel requires minimal infrastructure modifications and capital both in vehicles and in terminal and distribution infrastructure.
- Slightly lower energy content than petrol and diesel is another issue affecting the efficiency of the fuel.
- Methanol is toxic, flammable, and explosive; it must therefore be stored and handled carefully.
For India the challenges also include
- India has limited natural gas reserves and relies heavily on imports to meet its demand.
- The coal reserves in India have high-ash coal that requires more processing and generates more emissions than low-ash coal.
- Lack of dedicated infrastructure and policies.
Ongoing research and development efforts are focused on improving the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of green methanol production processes and expanding its applications.
The Concept of the “Methanol Economy” is being actively pursued by China, Italy, Sweden, Israel, the US, Australia, Japan, and many other European countries. 10% of fuel in China in the transport Sector is Methanol.
Green methanol represents one of the pathways toward a more sustainable and environmentally friendly energy future, offering the potential to reduce carbon emissions and dependence on fossil fuels in various sectors.
-Article by Swathi Satish